Effective Communications for the Engine Officer

This article covers some of the key radio transmissions that an engine company officer should make, to help other companies make decisions on the fireground.In the fire service today, we are better equipped and better trained than ever before. But we...


This article covers some of the key radio transmissions that an engine company officer should make, to help other companies make decisions on the fireground.

In the fire service today, we are better equipped and better trained than ever before. But we are still missing one thing when it comes to the fire ground -- effective communications!

Communicating on the fire ground allows us to coordinate the fire attack so everyone is working together. While the lack of communications today usually doesn't cause any trouble, every once in a while it manages to kill one of us.

I always read the close calls and NIOSH reports with this in mind. Not that I was at the fire and not that I'm an expert, but I just relate it to experiences that I've had in my time in the fire service.

These reports often lead me to look at the communications of the operation and how it affected the decision-making of command. What was reported on the fire ground/tactical radio channel and what was held back because it seemed unimportant? The smallest thing in one part of the structure can be a disaster waiting to happen in another.

On the fire ground, every thing that we do affects others on the scene. Not venting correctly may affect the ability of trapped persons to live long enough to be rescued. Not announcing that the building is starting to fall apart can affect every one inside the zone. Basically, it all counts somewhere on the scene.

For me, radio communications are the life-blood of the decision-making process for command. The old saying "we can only make decisions based on what we know at the time" applies directly to the incident command (IC) position. And because of our heavy reliance on the incident command system, the chief of operations must have current information to decide if an interior attack should continue or be moved to a defensive position.

So, are there critical radio reports that the chief must have to make good decisions about the operation? We're talking about radio reports that firefighter lives depend on here. I say there are, and they come from the engine officer on the scene.

The engine is the core of any fire solution. If we put out the fire, the problem goes away. On the standard fire, if there is such an animal, the engine officer provides a number of reports that makes the ICs decisions easier. The commander should be listening for these communications during the incident, and if they are not transmitted they should be requested. The sooner information is received the more useful it is.

At the start of the incident, the engine company is likely to be the first unit on the scene. When this happens, the officer should provide a good, first-due radio report that in-coming companies will hear. Describing the conditions is an art. The pressure is on to quickly understand the event. and report it so everyone knows what to expect. This radio report must be clear and concise so it sets the stage for the rest of the operation.

It should also contain common terms that will be understood by everyone. This radio report can be pre-planned to a large extent so department members know what common terms to use. Here's a suggestion on what to include:

  • The apparatus type and the number (Engine 123, Truck 39)
  • Confirmation of the address
  • The engine's placement in comparison to the building (this is important if the position of the unit determines in what manner the department will secure a positive source of water)
  • The fire conditions and the construction of the building
  • Any other specific needs for the first due unit (like extra alarms)

A good example of a report would be the following: "Engine 123 is on the scene at 2215 West 15th Street. We are westbound on a 2 1/2-story balloon-frame residence with fire on the first and second floor. Give me a second alarm response."

This transmission fills in many of the blanks for command on what has been found and what additional help is needed.

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