Repeat Your Transmission, Please

By Erich Roden

As a battalion chief, I have two radios on me at all times when operating at fires. While most may think this is odd or overkill with communications, my department prefers that one radio remain on the main dispatch frequency and the other on the designated “fireground frequency” while operating at fires. As we moved to digital radio platforms over the years, we had the ability to incorporate multiple frequency options into our communications plan, so we now have the ability to operate on numerous incident frequencies while dealing with multiple fires and incidents throughout the city. We also send two chiefs on the first alarm to my fires, so once we get both chiefs on scene, the operations chief in front of the fire building switches the dispatch radio to an analog frequency as a control measure for loss of digital comms, while the command chief remains on dispatch. Now our chiefs are listening to three frequencies with the utmost confidence that the message will be heard.

If you ever come to one of my fires, you’ll find that there’s not a whole lot of talk on the radio in the first few minutes. As companies arrive, they deploy to their designated areas of responsibility, per our standard operating guidelines. I usually get a face-to-face shot at the bosses as they’re headed in or up, so they have a clear indication as to what I know about how things are shaking out at this fire. It’s never a good idea to clog up the radio with “How’s it going?” or “What do you have?” transmissions during the first few minutes, as they’ll usually tell you, once they find out. Plus, you have to give companies time to work and get comfortable in their positions within the fire building; however, when you’re getting jumbled, unreadable, or confusing comms, then its time to say, “Repeat your transmission, please.”

As a chief officer, you have to know exactly what your troops are telling you. Don’t be one of those chiefs who assumes you know what they mean—especially at a fire. The troops expect clear comms from their chief officers, as they’re the ones who must relay them in the manner with which administration and management expected them to be. Interpretation of any comm is usually discovered by the chief officer during rounds while visiting a battalion’s respective firehouses. Although the chief officer must relay what the policy, procedure, or operation means, consensus can be reached with regard to how it will be perceived by the troops. This means that the chief officer must relay this back up the chain of command so that the new comm becomes clearer and implemented properly. Yes, even administration’s comms can be jumbled, unreadable, and confusing. When they are, it’s time ask the big bosses to repeat their transmission, please.

This month, we bring you some comms from our trusted voices that help “clear” things up for your organization. Brian Ward brings us the Life Cycle of Leading and how our personal development becomes the foundation of our place in our organization’s effective leadership construct. Having the requisite personal skills is a continuous cycle if you plan on holding any leadership position within your department. It’s all in the details, and Brian will show you what you need to know and how to get involved in your job so that you know what you’re talking about—on the fireground and in the firehouse. Speaking of fireground details, Sean Gray and P.J. Norwood bring you some regarding vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS). This fireground tactic is a powerful option in your fireground search arsenal and is a time-proven tactic. It has always been dependent on fire location and conditions and is even more dependent based on what we know about fire today. Individuals performing this task on the fireground only get one decent shot at it, and P.J. and Sean will make sure you know what, why, and when to perform VEIS.

As we hone time-honored tactics and procedures, we have to be sure to communicate to the troops where they are developed. David Rhodes tells us that operations aren’t developed in burn buildings; rather, they are developed in the real world in the real fire buildings that you will respond to, and they are honed in burn towers. This is a message worth repeating, as this is an understanding we all need to have to move the fire service forward.

One area of the fire service that is moving forward is the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Dena Ali gives us a tremendous story and insight into the WUI’s elite Hotshots. In structural firefighting, if we have poor comms from a unit, or if they’re in trouble, we have rescues and rapid intervention teams. In the WUI, we have Hotshots. Check out the story on how these hotshots operate and what they’re exposed to on any given day.

As you read through the pages of this month’s issue, remember that your awareness, knowledge, and exposure to what you face make things clearer. As you communicate on the fireground and in the firehouse, make sure your communications are clear and understood. Know what your members are being exposed to, and make sure they know what you expect. If you have any questions on either, ask them to repeat their transmission, please.

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