Firehouse Roundtable

As firefighters, we have come to rely upon accurate and uninterrupted communications as a means of enhancing our safety. While many of the tools in our arsenal are used frequently, none are used as routinely — or as often — as our communications...


As firefighters, we have come to rely upon accurate and uninterrupted communications as a means of enhancing our safety. While many of the tools in our arsenal are used frequently, none are used as routinely — or as often — as our communications devices. While we have progressed from the days of...


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As firefighters, we have come to rely upon accurate and uninterrupted communications as a means of enhancing our safety. While many of the tools in our arsenal are used frequently, none are used as routinely — or as often — as our communications devices. While we have progressed from the days of spinning watchman's rattles or banging on locomotive rims to sound an alarm, challenges await — because, when it comes to technology, it's more important to know where you're going than it is to know where you've been. In light of this, Firehouse® Magazine posed a single question to industry insiders regarding our future in this area of critical concern. Simply put, we asked:

Q: "From your industry perspective, what do you see as the greatest fire service communications challenge, and how are you and others in your particular area of expertise addressing this challenge?"

DIRK YOUNGis manager of National Public Safety Markets for Harris Corp.'s RF Communications Division. He joined the company in March 2007 and has more than 20 years of public safety experience, with more than 11 years of experience as a fire chief. In this capacity, he provides support for Harris' sales and marketing efforts. He also serves as the company's consultant liaison and fire industry advisor.

From my perspective, the greatest fire service communications challenge is the adoption of new and evolving technology. This goes beyond the current debate of digital versus analog, or conventional versus trunking.

Currently, radios are still largely used for voice communications only. And today's technology has grown well beyond the days of when the radio you were issued was a simple VHF or UHF radio that had a volume knob and channel selector. Radio systems, as well as the subscribers that are used on them, are more complex. While they bring added functionality to the users, they require more thought on how the new functionality will be utilized. Additionally, they require more comprehensive training to allow the user to properly utilize the equipment. Fire services train regularly on fire suppression, proper extrication skills and donning their SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) equipment. The same level of training must be provided for the communications equipment they use.

Conversely, the communications manufacturers must give more consideration to firefighters and how they do their jobs. The communications equipment should be simple to use so that firefighters can focus on the dangers around them and not have to worry about their radios. Communications systems can have the latest and greatest features and functions available, but if it is complicated to use and hampers them from doing their job, it will not be an effective tool."

MICHAEL BOYDis the president of Setcom Corp. Along with his business partner, James Roberts, Boyd has actively managed Setcom since acquiring it in 2004. Prior to acquiring Setcom, he worked in financial services for 10 years. He is formerly a volunteer firefighter. Founded in 1970, Setcom is a provider of headsets and intercom systems for fire apparatus.

Large, often noisy crew compartments on fire apparatus make it difficult for firefighters to communicate enroute to incidents and over time can lead to severe hearing loss. While this is not a new challenge for firefighters, it remains a persistent one as many departments still do not use headset systems on their apparatus.

At Setcom, we continue to educate firefighters about the need for headsets on apparatus, whether ours or an alternative. We also strive to make our headset systems as versatile as possible. As much as we might like otherwise, it seems that no two headset systems are the same. We feel strongly that providing a headset system designed to meet the unique needs of a department is often necessary to overcome objections. As with many fire equipment manufacturers, Setcom works hard to tailor systems to work with existing protocols and behaviors, rather than requiring a department to change its operating procedures to fit a headset system.

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