Emergency Responder Radio Coverage

The problem — Firefighters enter a building responding to a fire. While for this column the type of fire is not important, the fact that personnel are inside the building is important. As firefighters approach the fire area, they realize the situation...


The problem — Firefighters enter a building responding to a fire. While for this column the type of fire is not important, the fact that personnel are inside the building is important. As firefighters approach the fire area, they realize the situation is beyond their capabilities. They need...


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The problem — Firefighters enter a building responding to a fire. While for this column the type of fire is not important, the fact that personnel are inside the building is important. As firefighters approach the fire area, they realize the situation is beyond their capabilities. They need additional assistance and equipment to handle the emergency. The firefighters radio their dispatch center, requesting additional personnel and equipment. They wait for the dispatch center to reply, but there is no reply. Then they try to radio other responding engines on the street right outside the building. Again, there is no reply. They try both methods again and get no reply. The firefighters know they cannot handle the incident without assistance, so they decide to make their way back outdoors to communicate with anyone outside of the building.

The result — Precious time is lost while trying to find a location where radio communications are possible. In many cases, firefighters need to travel completely outside of the building to make use of their radios. In the worst case, firefighters inside the building are trapped or injured, and they cannot make contact with anyone to provide their status or location.

The solution — This situation can be mitigated by providing Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (ERRC) inside the building. This will allow the use of a fire department's existing handheld radios inside buildings, so firefighters or other emergency personnel inside the building can communicate with personnel outside the building, on the roof or at the dispatch center. The intent of the Emergency Responder Radio Coverage system is to provide a tool for emergency responders to maintain radio communications during an incident, and a higher level of protection and safety for firefighters while inside buildings. The ERRC system improves operational effectiveness by allowing the use of the existing communications system and equipment and by avoiding the need to use special radio frequencies or systems, intercoms or mobile repeaters in stressful emergency situations.

The 2009 edition of the International Fire Code (IFC) includes new requirements for in-building ERRC. The IFC contains performance levels for the radio communications inside buildings and maintenance criteria to ensure the system will be available when needed.

The requirements in IFC Section 510 state that all buildings must be capable of meeting the radio performance criteria. This requirement is applicable to all new construction. In the real world, radio communications can be affected by the type of construction, size of the building, basement levels, metal storage racks in warehouses and even the radio frequency.

Typical buildings where communications are a problem are masonry, steel and concrete, or all-steel construction. The size of the building also can impact signal strength. A hospital could present a problem with small rooms, resulting in many walls and many floor levels that the radio signal needs to penetrate.

If adequate signal strength is available within a new building, then the building is in compliance with the requirements. However, if the radio signal does not meet or exceed the performance levels, then the radio communications system must be augmented or enhanced in order to comply. This requirement is specific to each building, and is not to be used to enhance or improve the infrastructure of the radio system within the city or jurisdiction. The IFC requirement cannot be used to require the radio system infrastructure to be modified to provide an adequate signal at the street level. The radio signal outside the building is the responsibility of the jurisdiction, not the building owner. The conveyance of that radio signal inside and throughout the building is the responsibility of the owner.

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