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How to Run a Successful Radio Training

21 February 2017 5 minutes
Communication Equipment

In part 1 of this article, I talked about the things you need to do to keep your portable radio in top operating condition. The radio lifetime is only as good as your treat it and if you keep it clean, charged and protected it should be the partner you need in the most critical situations. The next thing I wanted to cover is the use of the radio and radio training.

Now that you have taken the time to learn what all the bells, buttons and dials do on your radio, you need to understand how to make it work. Fire officers need to understand that some of our new firefighters may not have grown up in a house with a fire department scanner on all the time and may not have any idea what all the terminology means. Unfortunately, a lot of the terminology is not covered in the training academy but a good officer will make sure to learn the nomenclature. Terminology like “what side of the building are you standing” differs between departments. I have heard it called the “A”, Alpha side of the building, Side 1, and the front to name a few. For this reason, make sure the firefighters all understand the common terminology of the ICS terms that they will be using.

Next would be what their call sign is on the radio and again for the firefighter riding on Engine 1 in the jump seat behind the officer his call sign could be Engine 103, E 1 “Charlie”, Engine 1 jump 1, so you get the idea what I am talking about. Firefighters should take some time to learn and listen to the radio communications so they can get a feel for the types of conversations that happen over the radio. Remember, the radio is not a telephone and it is governed by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).


When you talk on the radio, you need to keep it professional no matter how stressful the situation can become. You will keep your radio messages short and to the point and keep in mind that yelling is not allowed. If you yell, the radio will distort your voice and no one will be able to understand what you are saying so you are going to have to say it all over again and waste time. An officer shouldn’t yell when he gives an order. It will give your crews the feeling that you are losing your control and the one thing you want to have on a fire ground is the feeling that the person that is running this incident is in control and can do the job.

For your training classes, you can go on websites like YouTube and find videos of fires with the radio traffic on them. That will help you to give a solid radio traffic training to firefighters. You have the ability to use your own radios to practice on a fire ground frequency that should not interfere with regular radio operations. The officer and firefighters should practice basic radio communication like requesting a 2” hand line to the 3rd floor “B/C” corner bedroom and have the firefighter acknowledge the message with a repeat of the order. An officer that is given a radio assignment from command over the radio need to do the same thing in that telling the incident commander I have the order, repeat it and then get the crew to carry it out.  Once the order has been accomplished, you will notify command that it is completed like; “Command to Engine 1, go to the basement and shut off the gas”.  When the officer is finished with the task he will notify command “Engine 1 to command gas is shut off”, “Command has that Engine 1”.  The officers and crews need to understand that the IC is tracking you based on the orders you are given so as far as command knows if something goes wrong like a backdraft or collapse, Engine 1’s last known location was the basement.  If you are unable to carry out a command you need to let command know that you are unable and why.

fire radio training.jpg

The last idea I wanted to talk about is a very inventive idea that I had the pleasure of taking part in a number of years ago with the Providence Fire Department at one of their annual Firefighter Safety conferences. It was an ICS Simulator and it can be recreated at any fire department using your own local buildings and equipment. You tailor-make the program based on your SOP’s, buildings, number of apparatus, run cards, mutual aid and more. Go around your first in response district and take pictures of some of your target hazard buildings, apartment building, abandoned warehouse or hospital and take photos from all 4 sides. Next, depending on what software you have, you can take the pictures and add flames and smoke to them. Some software programs will do this and you can make the smoke and flames get worse or better depending on how well the IC is handling the event. You take 3-4 people and assign them roles: engine, ladder, EMS and rescue companies and you develop a script for each building, where the fire is located, time of day, weather conditions, occupants and so on. With permission, you get the use of a frequency that you can use for the drill like a fire ground or command and control channel; REMEMBER people will be listening – like the media; start the drill with the message “This is a Drill” and have the IC repeat this throughout the drill so not to alarm people. The IC will be in one room alone, the other actors will be in a room nearby and the coordinator will have the dispatcher give the simulated dispatch to the building fire and assignment of companies. The first in command gives an arrival report and a few minutes later the coordinator will show the first picture to the IC and tell him that he has arrived on scene. Depending on the script, you can throw things like found victim, fire extending to other building, loss of water and all the other “Murphy Law” types of things can happen. No matter how you do yours is fine as long as you do it, practice, practice and more practice.

Paul Calderwood

Deputy Fire Chief Paul Calderwood is a retired member of the Everett Fire Department, Everett, Massachusetts. He is a national and international lecturer on fire and life safety issues. He holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Protection and Safety and presently working to finish a Master’s Degree in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the NFA’s Executive Fire Officers Program. Deputy Chief Calderwood is an instructor in the Providence College’s Fire Science Program. Deputy Chief Calderwood is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist and Certified Fire Plans Examiner and he was part of the MEMA Seabrook NH Power Plant Emergency Planning team.

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