This issue is about the so called "new" fire radio systems. All over the USA FD’s are switching to "trunked" radio systems, "800" trunked radio systems,.etc., and with few exceptions, the results have sucked!
About a month ago, we saw the FDNY fiasco… the fiasco where some slick radio salesman and some clueless fire people decided the new radio system was "ready to go"… "Yeah-there are a few dead spots but overall, it works fine"… Dead spots? Should we accept dead spots?!?! FDNY didn’t.
RADIO SYSTEM TESTING: Whether its New York, California or Delaware we count on radio systems. Radios are no longer a nice to have… -they are essential … but yet we continue to see horrendous radio systems put in with poor (or no) testing procedures and VERY complicated switching and channel numbering.
WHAT WOULD be a good radio system test? How about testing them during a thunderstorm with 75% of all fire companies on the air-with firefighters asking for ETA’s on the "power company" for 1000’s of wires down? I’ll bet few (if any) FD’s ever tested their systems during PEAK use periods. And even if they wanted to, some places won’t LET YOU test the system. They have a bunch of "techies" and "non-firefighters" doing it.
How about testing radios in basements, high-rises, valleys, alleys and anywhere else you may have an emergency… which is anywhere! And if the tests result in poor performance-don’t accept them!
AM I NUTS (again..as asked every once in a while in this column) or are FD’s buying $4000.00 portable radios THAT DON’T WORK ANY BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAD?!
I can understand some areas thats have antiquated radio systems needing change … BUT is it any better on these new radio systems? As the salesman says: "Well Chief… with these new radios, we can identify all units, you can talk 30 miles away, you can cross patch this and link that, you can "special call" someone and have "private" conversations"… WHO CARES! If I ever write a book, it will be titled "I’m just here to go to fires!"… and that applies here!
WE NEED RADIOS that work when we go to fires! At a fire, I don’t NEED to have an identifier–I NEED TO CLEARLY HEAR THE FIREFIGHTER!…
At a fire, I don’t need to talk 30 miles away… I NEED TO TALK 30 feet away and hear them too!… and I certainly don’t need cross patch links (they are nice, when they work, at a rare multi agency MCI style incident-but usually NOT critical to firefighter safety. I always get a kick out of those new systems where the mayor can talk to the police chief who can talk to the water superintendent who can talk to the public works director-hell, they won’t even talk face to face during normal business, does anyone think they’ll be "better communicators" during some big, once in a lifetime disaster?!?!) and if I want to have a PRIVATE conversation with someone, I’ll do it over dinner.
The radio "stuff" is out of control! WHY are any systems being installed and "accepted" before it is honestly tested. You’ll read below where firefighters comment that "we’ve been saying all along we hope somebody isn’t hurt before this system’s fixed."… Can we afford radio systems that are tested but don’t work well or radio systems that cost millions, then suck-BUT are put into service to save someone some embarrassment?
Forget the embarrassment! An excellent nearby FD switched to a "new" 800 digital system a few months ago but still maintains all of their "old system" at the Dispatch Center as well as mobiles and portables… and BOTH portables are carried by the on duty firefighters-a little cumbersome, yes-but a good decision with firefighter safety in mind by the Chiefs office since their new system is being improved upon and upgraded.
Some new radio systems may be ok (I still cannot accept $4000.00 portables… what a rip off) and its clearly a local issue. I understand the attempt that our brother and sister firefighters tried to do with a "statewide" fire radio system in Delaware.
I know the fire service leadership in Delaware and they do have their act together… but they counted on the State Government for their new radio system. So how does all this tie into "preventing" dead firefighters… ACCOUNTABLITY!
When it comes to new radio systems it is ESSENTIAL that the Chiefs and others hold the "radio" people accountable by making sure the system is tested… making sure that it fully works… months and months prior to the system being accepted. Consider it like an airpack, turnout gear or apparatus brakes…
"Hiya fellows-Here are your NEW airpacks… they are light weight, comfortable and usually deliver air in the proper fashion… of course, it can’t ALWAYS work ALL of the time but other than a few times where it may fail… you’ll LOVE your new airpacks… and by the way-the low air alarms work very well except on the occasion of low air where it should normally work 90-95% of the time"
"Hiya fellows-Here is you new TURNOUT gear… its comfortable, lightweight, cost effective and will generally protect you… of course, there will be times when you encounter some higher temperatures while fighting a fire and the interior barrier/pvc foam liner may start to bake, crumble and be destroyed after one exposure, of course, since you really don’t have alot of fires, the exposure problem won’t occur all the time… but for the most part… you’ll like your new gear"
"Hiya fellows… Here is your brand new apparatus… it’s the best, state of the art and loaded with everything imaginable… now, since it does carry alot of equipment, the brakes may get a little hot and be slow to react if you drive it too often… and in that case, drive slower and stop the truck if you notice the brakes getting hot… but otherwise, enjoy your new apparatus"
"Hiya fellows… Here are your NEW 800 Mhz trunked radios… " Ya get the picture? Don’t let the "tail wag the dog"… firefighters are the ones in danger-not radio techs! There was a GREAT song a few years ago that had the words "We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore… " and that seems to be the appropriate response to those who are trying to jam us with "stuff that don’t work".
So… how can we Prevent Dead Firefighters? By making sure the specs are written with FIREFIGHTER SAFETY as the top, no excuses priority… by paying attention and holding those responsible, accountable and making sure, without any doubt that "it" works in the toughest of conditions and by NOT accepting something that could hurt one of our own… "if it’s predictable… it’s preventable"…