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Trial of wireless intercom systems
With the heat, smoke and noise during bushfires, communications on the fireground remain a key issue.
By Mark Garvey AFSM
All inquiries into major fires have highlighted the importance of delivering and receiving clear instructions at all levels, from incident controllers to the field, between units on the fireground and at crew level on fire trucks. In particular, firefighters on tankers at grass and scrub fires, where fire behaviour can be changeable, sometimes can’t hear each other because of the noise of pumps and the fire.
Some activities, such as operating a hose from the side of the rear deck of a tanker or working on the ground away from the vehicle, give rise to situations where natural conversations between crew members are not possible. In most situations this doesn’t cause a problem, but in others clear communication is crucial to crew safety and vital seconds can be lost.
Some time ago, a trial of a wireless intercom system came up with some interesting findings: clearer, more natural conversations between crew members were possible; the use of headsets freed up both hands to operate equipment; and the amount of operational radio traffic was reduced.
Around a year ago, CFA put a call-out to the market to find a system suitable for trialling. Key criteria were personal mobility, ability for hands-free operation, headsets that are compatible with helmets and goggles, and a good working range.
Five companies approached CFA with a variety of solutions and two systems were selected for full-scale trials. The systems support full duplex communication between a crew of five, operate on DECT frequencies (which are also used for cordless telephones), are recharged in the vehicle, and have a range of more than 100 metres.
Craigieburn, Wildwood and Wollert brigades are using four tankers to run trials over the summer. Plans are in place for more brigades to work with the four tankers, so that we can collect a wide range of feedback.
Some District 14 brigades attended a field day in mid-November to take part in a number of exercises that simulated regular tasks at bushfires, such as grassfire attack and asset protection. Crews were then asked to provide feedback based on their past experience and how they found the systems during the exercises they undertook. These trials will firm up the required features of a tanker crew communication system, identify hands-on operational issues and focus on other aspects such as installation, maintenance, technical support and training.
CFA is always looking to improve safety, security and efficiency for all our staff and volunteers. Wireless intercom systems have the potential to advance all three.