Mayday-Mayday-Mayday: What Radio Channel Are You On?

Knowledge of Radio Protocol Saves Firefighter in House Full of Surprises In this close call, we again read how a "nothing showing" on arrival fire call became anything but nothing. However, while the writer shares with you his personal experience, we...


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Knowledge of Radio Protocol Saves Firefighter in House Full of Surprises

In this close call, we again read how a "nothing showing" on arrival fire call became anything but nothing. However, while the writer shares with you his personal experience, we also take a look at an issue that is becoming more and more of a concern to firefighters: the use of their radios. Years ago, radios were simpler to use and operate, but with digital-trunked and multi-system, talk-group and channel radios, the use of a firefighter radio - like it or not - has become an issue worth thinking about.

Prince George's County, MD, is a diverse and multicultural community bordering the eastern edges of our nation's capital. The Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department responded to over 122,600 calls for service last year using a combination career and volunteer fire and EMS service delivery model.

Our sincere thanks to Firefighter Mike Wells for sharing his first-hand close call so that other firefighters can learn. Thanks also to Chief Lawrence H. Sedgwick Jr. of the Prince George's County Fire-EMS Department, Prince George's County Fire-EMS Public Information Officer Mark Brady, the Fire Investigation Bureau of the Prince George's County Fire-EMS Department, the career firefighters from Station 839, the Bowie Volunteer Fire Department (Prince George's County Fire/EMS Stations 819, 839 and 842) and all other firefighters and companies involved in this incident.

This account is by Firefighter Mike Wells, who called the Mayday:

March 24, 2008, did not start out like most shifts at Prince George's County Fire/EMS Station 839 in Bowie, MD. The lieutenant, fire-technician and senior firefighter were all out on leave. I was the only member of my regular shift working that day. Just four months off probationary status, I had no clue that I was going to be tested on what I had learned one year earlier in the academy. I started apparatus checks, changed the battery in my personal radio and made sure that my self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) was in working order. I also made sure all of the hoselines were ready to be pulled if called upon, since I was running the hoseline that day.

At approximately 9:55 A.M., Prince George's County Public Safety Communications (PSC) dispatched a box alarm for a reported fire in the dwelling to 6401 Gwinnett Lane in Bowie. The assignment consisted of four engines, two ladder trucks, one rescue-squad and a battalion chief. Engine 839 responded with four personnel. At 10:01, the crew laid a supply line about 100 feet to the address. The lieutenant of Engine 839 told PSC, "Have Engine 818 pick up my line at Gwinnett and Geoffry Road. I'm on the scene with a two-story, single-family dwelling. Nothing evident (nothing showing) ... I am establishing the Gwinnett Lane command." Indeed, we arrived with nothing evident. Because I was the lineman, I had to make a decision as to which to pull. Since the only choice I have is a two-inch or 1½-inch hose, I chose a 200-foot, 1½-inch line with a breakaway nozzle. Normally, I would pull a 200-foot, two-inch line with a fog nozzle, but I had no fire evident and was not with my normal crew so I wanted to make sure I had more mobility if I needed to advance my line.

When I got to the tailboard of the engine, I noticed light-brown smoke coming from a roof vent. I was thinking we possibly had a small room-and-contents fire on the second floor. I got to the A/D corner of the house and noticed more brown smoke coming from a crack on the side of a basement window. Once I relayed this information to the lieutenant, I started to think of basement fire operations. Just before we made entry, Chief 819 arrived and took command. Realizing his third-due special service (a special service is a truck or rescue company) in charge of rapid intervention was understaffed with two personnel, he requested an additional engine and truck company for the rapid intervention team.

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