Communications: The Main Link to Safety On the Fireground

It is troubling in 2005 to still be reading after-action reports involving firefighter fatalities that contain “communications” as a possible contributing cause for the death or deaths. The main breakdown, in my opinion, seems to be between command...


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One of the most overlooked disconnects in the communications process occurs at the dispatch center. This is often true when fire and police share a center and the call takers and dispatchers are police employees who also handle fire and EMS calls. I believe that if more training were given to these individuals regarding the incident management system, size-up, and fire behavior and the standard operating procedures (SOPs)/standard operating guidelines (SOGs) of their fire department, they would be more beneficial to the system.

Behavior is the last piece of the communications puzzle. The best and most comprehensive SOPs/SOGs will not do anything if the members of the department don’t support or adhere to them.

We need to remove “communications” from our after-action reports. I hope that happens sooner rather than later. Stay safe!


Michael L. Smith, a Firehouse® contributing editor, has over 35 years of fire service experience, including more than 30 years with the District of Columbia Fire Department, from which retired as a deputy chief. He currently is an international consultant and instructor for the fire service and U.S. military on incident command, training, risk management and WMD response, and lectures on a wide array of emergency response issues.