Industry Expert Blog: How NFPA 1802 Enhances Fireground Communications

March 8, 2021
L3Harris Product Manager Don Griffis explains how the new NFPA 1802 specifications enhance firefighter safety and success on the fireground.

I am a product manager at L3Harris. I have been an amateur radio operator (callsign KA4CZU) for more than 46 years, and I have a BSEE and have worked professionally within the LMR market for over 27 years, first at Motorola and now for L3Harris. Throughout my career, I have taken great pride and confidence in knowing quite a bit about RF communication devices, public safety and emergency response.

But even with all of my knowledge and experience, I know there is always more to learn, especially from our customers. I learned that in a very pointed way a few years ago when I was out gathering what we call “Voice of the Customer (VOC)” feedback at a firehouse. During these conversations, my role is to ask questions and carefully pay attention – even to facial expressions and things left unsaid – so I can hear and understand what is on our customers’ minds.

Early on during this visit, I said that we at L3Harris would like to understand what we could add to our products to make them more useful to the fire service. The Chief, in front of his team, said to me, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever been out at a live burn, to a burn house? You ever go out on a ride-along?” I sheepishly replied, “No, sir.” To which he said, “Then how the hell can you develop a product for my team?”

Those few words were the kick in the gut I needed to make me be better, not only at my job, but in my life in general. As a result, I did exactly what that chief asked of me; not only because I was genuinely interested, but because I never wanted to feel as inadequate as I did when he called me out.

One of the more impactful things I have done to understand the challenges facing firefighters is to become involved with the NFPA committee members that work at L3Harris. I am now a committee member myself and have a deeper understanding about the vision the NFPA has for fire service communications. The team has had plenty to share with me about a new standard the NFPA was creating for both an RF communication device (radio) and remote speaker microphone (RSM) used by personnel on the fireground. In fact, that standard  – NFPA 1802  has just been released this year.

If you really think about it, these are exciting times for firefighter communications. When a firefighter suits up, their turnout coat, gloves, TIC, SCBA, regulator, and O2 tank are all NFPA certified. Basically, everything that a firefighter uses when going into a hazardous area is NFPA certified, except some of the most critical pieces of gear: their radio and RSM.

I remember during one ride-along, I had a team member tell me “Man, the three life-saving devices I carry into a building are my SCBA, my turnout coat and my radio.” Think about that for a moment. One third of what this firefighter puts total faith in for being there when the worst happens is not even certified by an organization whose entire mission is to make equipment safer. Well, that is all about to change!

With the release of NFPA 1802, all communications manufacturers will need to step up their game to meet this robust specification. The NFPA 1802 specification considers both a radio and the RSM as equal parts of a system. In fact, all the durability tests performed on a radio are also performed on an RSM.

That’s because the NFPA understands that a firefighter uses both together, and they both need to be tough.

So why a new standard for radios and RSMs? First and foremost, it comes down to safety. The goal of NFPA 1802 is to achieve a higher level of safety through robust hardware and software requirements.

Let’s talk a bit about hardware requirements. NFPA 1802 calls for a much more robust and rugged radio and RSM than today’s current models. A few of these rugged requirements state the equipment:

  • Must be NFPA ‘glove friendly’ to ensure ease of operation in full fire gear
  • Must have larger Emergency Activation Button (EAB) for use with gloved hand
  • Must survive a 3-meter drop. Currently, most devices are only rated to 1 meter
  • Must be operational in 500-degree oven temps for 5 minutes
  • Must survive and operate through multiple cycles of 350-degree oven for 15 minutes and subsequent water quench
  • Must survive rotational tumble in 4-foot diameter chamber for 3 hours at 15 RPM
  • Must survive corrosion saltwater test submerged 48 hours at 95 degrees
  • Must survive case integrity of 442 pounds on each side of the device

Talk about tough! But the devices must be tough, just like the men and women who use them. You would think that the list of extremes that the radio and RSM are put through to validate the requirements would be enough, but the NFPA also took into consideration the software architecture of today’s radios and added new requirements to enhance user safety. The standards define a new hazard mode of operation. Some of the features of hazard mode are:

  • Loud audio by default for use in loud environments
  • Confirmed power off to prevent accidental power down
  • Multiple new voice annunciations to indicate the unit is powering off, over temp, low or dead battery, or a failed RSM has been attached
  • “Cable fault detect”—the radio will now assess if the remote speaker mic cable has been compromised, letting the user know via voice announcement and radio has automatically reverted to internal microphone and speaker
  • Radio will provide an over temp detection when operated outside of safe temperature range
  • “Data logging”—the radio acts as a ‘black box,’ storing critical data (last 200 events) for after-action reports to aid in proactively increasing user safety
  • Radios must support Bluetooth-certified accessories such as an SCBA mask

In addition, NFPA 1802 also defines what a radio should look like, which is very similar to the radio you are using today. It has a speaker, microphone, power/volume control, channel selector, Push-To-Talk button, EAB, at least one side button, and at least a 2-position concentric and 3-position concentric switch. Pretty straightforward.

If you want to get all the details provided in NFPA 1802, I encourage you to go to and sign up for an account. The NFPA has many other standards you can explore, as well as the history of the organization. Above all, it will help you better understand how the NFPA is keeping up with the ever-changing technologies that impact your profession, and, ultimately, you.

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