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At the scene of a fire, good communication is not only essential for effective operations—it can be a matter of life or death.

Communicating clearly, concisely and completely can be difficult in the midst of an emergency situation, but new technology can help firefighters relay important messages, keep track of one another and make sure firefighters go into the situation armed with the information they need. Here are a few of the new technologies help streamline fire communication:

Advanced radio technology

Radios have long been essential tools for fireground communication, and new technology is making them more reliable and able to do far more than just relay messages. Along with introducing more water and heat resistant designs, new technology has transformed radios into tools that can help with accountability on the scene of a fire. Companies such as Motorola have developed radio command systems that can automatically report each firefighter’s radio ID and location, show if a radio gets turned off, automatically inform commanders if a firefighter is in trouble, allow the incident commander to send out an evacuation tone to every firefighter, and more.

Of course, technology can only be helpful if it’s used properly. Departments should develop policies and protocols for radio use and train firefighters on the information they should send to command when they arrive at the fireground. Radio policies should also address standard codes for emergencies, missing firefighters and other incidents. However, departments should train firefighters on clear communication first and foremost—codes can be difficult to keep track of during emergencies.

Incident command and GPS systems

Tools like the Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS) can be used for planning and response to fires. NICS is currently being used by at least 270 public safety agencies in California, often for wildfires. The web-based tool gives firefighters a centralized location to access data from sensors as well as maps, weather, infrastructure, and real-time location information for vehicles, team members and other firefighter resources.

Similarly, GPS systems can be used on the ground during an incident to show routes, locate units and hydrants, geolocate firefighters on the scene, and predict wind and weather patterns so firefighters would know ahead of time if they needed to evacuate. These technologies help enhance situational awareness to keep firefighters safe.

Document management software

One of the most important ways to ensure effective communication on the scene of a fire is to make sure firefighters are prepared well before the call comes. A document management software can keep firefighters up to date on policies and procedures by distributing updates, testing understanding and requiring sign-offs. Software such as PowerDMS also provides a centralized, accessible location to store building layouts and other firefighting pre-planning information. This helps ensure that all firefighters know policies for fireground communication and go into every situation armed with the information they need.

If used well, technology can drastically improve fireground communication, helping departments run smoothly, respond to incidents efficiently and keep their communities and their firefighters safe.

See how Brentwood (TN) Fire Department utilized PowerDMS to reduce training time by 33%