Designing Portable Radios for Fireground Survival

In hazardous situations it is essential to maintain constant communications with all members operating on the scene. It is a well established fact that firefighters need to be equipped with radios to help ensure their safety and survival. Merely providing...

In order to reinforce the importance of radio design for firefighter survival, training on calling a mayday is essential. The importance of having a radio designed to easily rotate the channel selector knob either direction to a monitored channel should be emphasized. Members should be reminded that, if they do not receive an acknowledgement after several attempts on the selected radio channel, they should rotate the knob all the way in either direction.

For a training exercise, members should be given a radio on a fireground or training channel. While conducting the training members should wear full PPE, including a blacked out SCBA mask. Members should be brought into a room and given a situation that would warrant calling a mayday (for example: lost, trapped, etc) and they should attempt calling a Mayday on the fireground or training channel. After several attempts without acknowledgement from the incident commander, members should rotate the channel selector knob all the way in either direction to a monitored channel. This should be done without removing any PPE and in zero visibility conditions. Once again, the Mayday should be called and this time be answered by someone monitoring the channel. Remember to alert dispatch prior to the exercise that companies will be conducting mayday training.


Equipping members with radios is essential to firefighter survival, but without the necessary specification and training they are not as effective as they need to be. A Mayday is an extremely stressful situation, and having to fumble with a poorly designed radio will greatly amplify the stress level. Consideration must be given to the layout of the assigned radios to ensure that critical messages are effectively received. As always, training should be done by utilizing the equipment that has been assigned and by following the procedures that define the action steps and radio transmission requirements to maximize firefighter safety and survival.

JONATHAN HALL is  a firefighter with the Saint Paul, MN, Fire Department. He previously served as a training and safety officer for the Township Fire Department in Eau Claire, WI and is a certified fire instructor for the Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire. Jonathan frequently teaches firefighter survival and rapid intervention team concepts in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.