IAFF, USFA publish new communications guide

FireRescue1 Staff

Related Resource:

Voice Radio Communications Guide for the Fire Service (PDF)
WASHINGTON, DC — A new guide on communications safety and technology has been released by the IAFF and the USFA.

The updated manual, Voice Radio Communications Guide for the Fire Service, was first published in 1996 and provides the latest information on communications technology and discusses critical homeland security issues and concepts.

"The need for an understanding of today's modern communications concepts and technology for firefighter and citizen life safety and operational effectiveness remains as valid, if not more so today, than it did when this USFA document was first produced in 1996," said U.S. Fire Administrator Greg Cade.

The manual focuses on seven sections of communications – basic radio communication technology, radios and radio systems, portable radio selection and use, trunked radio systems, system design and implementation, interoperability, and radio spectrum licensing and the federal communications commission.

Among the recommendations for each topic are:

Basic radio communication technology
When designing radio communications systems, the designers must take into account the presence of reflecting or absorbing materials and interference. This may require constructing taller towers to support the antennas or increasing the power of the transmitters to overcome the loss of signal strength and interference.

Portable radio selection and use
Determine the size of the radio fleet and the users who need radios. This will assist in classifying each user type and the radio tier needed for each user classification. Selecting the correct tier radio for the target user is a way to contain cost and provide reliability for users on the fireground.

Trunked radio systems
Trunked radio systems are the most complex of public safety radio systems. They are built on all of the principles and technologies developed in radio systems over the past 50 years. As with all radio systems, the coverage of the trunked radio system is the key to its ability to operate in a way that meets the firefighters' needs.

System design and implementation
Establish a project team that includes fire department management and labor representation early in the project lifetime, involving all stakeholders, and ensure that they continue to participate in the implementation process. Gather information on the communications needs of field personnel and compare this to the radio systems they use.

NFPA 1221 and NIMS identify the need for a communications coordination officer on large incidents. Proper training is required for technical staff to understand the operational needs on large incidents. As incidents grow, the Communications Unit Leader in a NIMS Command organization is the central point of contact for communications needs and coordination. Many technologies are available to achieve interoperability.

Radio spectrum licensing and the federal communications commission
One problem common to all recommendations to increase the spectrum allocated to public safety agencies is accurately defining "public safety agencies," and another lies in the politics of the allocations. Many state and local governments, and their communications managers in particular, lobbied to include "public service" or "public safety support" agencies in those eligible to license spectrum allocated to public safety.

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