L.A. City Uses Handsets and Wire in High-Rise Fire Fighting

L.A. City Uses Handsets and Wire in High-Rise Fire Fighting


Chief or his aide, at command post, with handset and monitor keeps in touch with companyin stairwell as it engages in search and rescue.

The Los Angeles City Fire Department has developed a sound-powered field phone system for emergency use during high-rise fire fighting operations. The system was developed and tested in Battalion 5 which covers the Hollywood area. And as of January 1, sets were put in use in L.A. City’s three field divisions, in addition to Battalion 5, Battalions 1 (Downtown), 11 (high-rise areas west of Downtown), 10 (Mid-San Fernando Valley), and 18 (Century City and west).

Battalion 5 Chief Dale Booth said that the need for better communications during high-rise emergencies first occurred in the spring of 1972 when the chief was drilling several companies in a simulated fire in a Hollywood high-rise area.

“We discovered that our handytalkies didn’t really work well inside of the new sealed high-rise buildings of the type being built in Los Angeles,” the chief recalls. “At a critique following the drill, one of the men from Engine 82, suggested that we try something like an army field phone so that we could have adequate communications from inside the building to the fire command post outside.”

Sound-powered telephone unit, set up at command post, has hand set for chief, and jacks to keep him in touch with his aide, other units and a resource pool.Units within building carry 3000 feet of wire on reels which with sound-powered handsets enable them to report from all parts of high-rise.

Booth says that as department research commenced the Pacific Telephone Company offered to research and develop a field phone system.

“Pacific Telephone came up with an excellent system with wire connecting handsets and using dry cell battery power. We would run the assaulttype wire into the building from the command post and into the stairwell and to the roof if required, connecting handsets with alligator clips.”

The first system went into operation on a test basis in Battalion 5 and then a sound-powered system was also developed as R&D continued by the progressive city firemen.

“We then had to come to a decision on whether to use the battery-powered or sound system,” the chief recalls. “Both worked well with certain cost factors to be considered—handsets for the battery-powered units were about $5 and the sound-powered $40 with negative maintenance costs.”

At this point, the department’s high-rise committee of which Booth is a member brought officers from Fire Prevention and Fire Suppression Bureaus into the meetings to determine which system the department should adopt.

Sound power adopted

“About this time there was a move to require sound-powered phone systems under our new high-rise code and that helped tip the scales toward adoption of the sound-powered system for field use.”

The systems now consist of nine sound-powered handsets and two 3,000-foot reels of wire. A master box and the other equipment is carried in the truck of the battalion or division commander’s sedan available for instant use. Booth explains how he developed operational use of the field phone system.

“On arrival at a high-rise fire, we commit one engine company to handle both the set up of the phone system and to building search and rescue and command post operation.

“For example, one unit stays at the command post where the chief’s aide can use a headset or monitor a speaker at the beginning of an operation. The engine company takes the wire into the lobby and leaves one phone for the lobby commander and then starts up the stairwell engaging in search and rescue along the way. Phones can be left, on any level merely by clipping on to the wire.

In-building command post

The captain and two men will set up an in-building command post if required and if possible two more men will make their way to the roof to complete the vertical communication set up. Another line can be run to the apparatus pool if needed.”

Booth explains that in all but two of the battalions involved heavy-duty task forces of three engines and a truck plus additional units respond to most high-rise alarms.

“The commitment of the engine crew to communications can be justified,” he contends, “because they are also involved in search and rescue. The system has been used on several major high-rise emergencies and has functioned well.”

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