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Rules of the Radio

Ethan Vizitei

Clear Is Kind

You may know your 10-codes really well. I certainly know a few of them. But are you sure that everybody you’re talking to on the radio is 100% confident on theirs? If your department uses them internally, that’s up to them and is perfectly valid, but any time you’re talking outside that jurisdiction, those codes are as likely to confuse people as they are to speed up communications. If you say what you mean, you won’t be misunderstood. Usually.

Cleanliness Is Next to Not-Losing-Your-Job-Liness ß

This one is important. When I was in rookie school, one of my fellow recruits ended a desperate plea for help over the radio with “This s**t is hard!”. It was funny, in a cavalier way; we all had a good laugh over it and no one was offended. My ears are pretty resilient and probably so are those of your fellow firefighters. The problem is you aren’t the only ones listening on those public radio channels. There are plenty of average Joes who just happen to have a scanner in their house, not to mention public watchdogs and media personnel. Swearing might not be a big deal to you or me, but all it takes is you upsetting the wrong person who has sensitive ears and it could mean a public complaint about the your department’s professionalism. Yes, it could be that big of a deal. Don’t make your chief do more paperwork, and you probably won’t get fired. A rule to live by! Make it a habit – don’t swear on the radio.

Have a Plan B

This is one that isn’t always included in the “Using Your Radio” presentation, but it’s important to think about. Sometimes equipment fails. Manufacturers do their best to build quality products, but wear and tear and simple statistics can catch up with you cut you off without realizing it until you really need to get a message out. I have my cell phone with me all the time (except into a burning building), so if I find myself cut off at a highway scene or a search-and-rescue, I have another way to summon help. But what about inside a fire, you ask? There are still ways to communicate. Make sure you know what your departments standard signals are. In trouble? Activate your pass device manually – nothing will bring your buddies running like hearing that sound in a real fire.  Another common one is the old “three air horn blast,” which means “get out of the building now!”. A radio is a great tool to have, but you should always be prepared for being able to function without one.

Are you like I was? A pretty new guy on the department who really wants to fit in and be accepted? Let me tell you from experience that a really solid way to gain ridicule and eternal newbie status is to not play by the rules above. Nothing gets the eyes of the old dogs rolling like a way-too-long-way-too-loud message crackling over the radio. Keep it short, pertinent, and professional and you’ll have one less barrier to being seen as a competent member.