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THMG021 – Communications


In this episode, Mike and Bob discuss communications during a hazardous materials operation.

Complete Show Notes

6:10 Communications Overview

  • At the most basic level, it’s the giving and receiving of information
  • We mostly do this verbally, but body language and facial expressions are also part of communication (and can sometimes say more than words)
  • We lose the nuances of communication over the radio or through a plastic suit
  • Communication is important because we need to understand the information being transmitted and make decisions accordingly
  • We communicate to ensure operator safety, transmit orders, change tactics, accountability, etc.
  • The NFPA requires that all levels of PPE have some method of communication

10:25 Why Do We Need Good Communications?

  • Good radio procedures make us look professional – we’re often judged by how we communicate
  • There can be important legal implications – can be used in court cases to support either the employer or the employee (everyone has a recording device)
  • Communications are a major factor in how we handle an emergency – there are many documented occurrences where there was a breakdown or lack of effective communication that led to a fatality or injury

14:15 Written Communications Procedures

  • Many departments need written procedures for how they communicate
  • These serve as a basis for training
  • We need to train on these communication procedures in the same way we train on our other SOG
  • Communications procedures should be used for post-incident debriefings

15:20 Always Have a Secondary Method of Communications

  • This is especially important in splash and vapor protection suits
  • Use hand signals for the following: loss of air supply, loss of suit integrity, buddy down, loss of radio communications, etc.
  • You should also establish an emergency signal to indicate an immediate evacuation of the hot zone
  • Your emergency signal should be audible (use horns or sirens) and able to broadcast over radios

18:35 Five Steps for Effective Communications

  • Step 1:
    • Think about what you’re going to say
    • Formulate what you’re going to say in your head before you speak – make the message clear, short, and to the point
  • Step 2:
    • Get the attention of the receiver
  • Step 3:
    • Transmit your message via the radio or face to face if you don’t have radios
    • Speak slowly and clearly – don’t yell
    • Hold the microphone 2-3 inches from your mouth, or against the voicemitter duct or transmitting diaphragm of your SCBA facepiece
    • Use hand signals, signs, and body language, too
  • Step 4:
    • The receiver receives the message – if you’re the receiver, let the sender know you’re ready to receive the message
    • Try to reduce background noise if at all possible
  • Step 5:
    • Acknowledge receipt of the message – use “10-4” or whatever your department uses to communicate the message was received
    • Repeat the message back to the sender so they know it was understand and is being complied with

25:15 Emergency Communications

  • MAYDAY (“I owe you my life”) – this is what we use to remember when a mayday should be given in our department
    • UNCONSCIOUS (life-threatening injury to firefighter)
    • LOST FF
  • We probably won’t deal with too much of a collapse, but a downed FF or even a missing or lost one is definitely a possibility
    • Member has an injury that isn’t life threatening
    • This could include exterior attack, fire exposure, water loss, or any time a change in conditions will severely impact an operation or the safety of members
  • What happens when we transmit one of these messages?
    • I/C takes control of the frequency
    • All other radio communications stop immediately
    • I/C contacts the member or unit that’s transmitting the emergency
    • The radio frequency must remain clear until the MAYDAY or URGENT is cleared by the I/C

33:15 How Do We Communicate in Suits?

  • This isn’t the same as fireground communications
  • We’ll be wearing multiple layers of protection, unlike a fireground where you may or may not have a facepiece on
  • Gloves and dexterity may be reduced, making operations difficult (if not impossible)
  • There’s nothing more annoying as a firefighter than having an outside position with a hook in one hand and a halligan in the other winding your way up a narrow fire escape with people coming down it and getting a call from your officer and chief to find out conditions in the rear
  • Similarly, it’s annoying when you’re forcing a door and masking up at the fire department or crawling around in zero visibility and the chief calls looking for an update
  • This also works for a member in a Level A suit or bunker gear at an HM incident
  • The company officer or FF on the inside working the incident should be proactive – don’t wait for the IC to call you
  • The IC remote from the incident, fire, or hot zone needs to be patient and understand that the people in the hot/zone fire are heavily engaged – don’t ask too often or too quickly for updates
  • If both sides of the communication realize these things, it makes for a much smoother and less frustrating exchange of information without sacrificing the exchange of important information

36:05 Portable Radios

  • These have remote microphones that can be fit with the throat or bone conduction mics and hovering speakers to aid in suit communications
  • Some setups have large chest-mounted buttons, but there are pros and cons
  • In suit communications, should you use the fireground as the communication or change channels for the downrange team?
  • VOX settings make life easy, but you can also transmit unintended communications
  • Add-ons to portable radios reduces or eliminates intrinsic safety, but keep in mind that we bring in our own atmosphere

41:15 Communications in HM Scenes

  • Consider how long the mode of communication takes to setup and use
  • There are also weight considerations – consider your facepiece weight, helmets, and fatigue
  • How secure is your channel? News outlets or terrorists can be listening in on operations?
  • There are also battery considerations
  • You also need to know how to transmit chemical names
  • Know how to perform a PAR (Personnel Accountability Report)
  • Does your department use radio codes, or do they use plain language?

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