Traffic Jams on the Air
The Editor’s Opinion Page
Traffic jams on the streets and highways are not new to the fire service, but traffic jams on the airwaves are new, and increasing in intensity each year. Unlike road traffic, radio traffic cannot be detoured or alleviated by new roads. There are only just so many roads (frequencies) built into the electromagnetic spectrum and man cannot build any more.
Frequency allocation, then, is the biggest traffic problem that faces the fire service today and one that will probably never be solved. (There are 2.5 million transmitters crammed into 5 percent of the spectrum and applications continue to pour in by the thousands.) It looks like the fire service will have to make do with what it has or, perhaps, with just a little relief in the future.
Some authorities in the field of fire communications claim that the service is not fully utilizing the frequencies now available, and when they are, they are not utilizing them properly.
Some time ago, at the request of the fire service, the FCC set aside several frequencies to be used as mutual aid frequencies (even for statewide use). Initially and unhappily, many departments seemed to feel that “we want to be on the same frequency with our neighbors so we can talk to each other.” The trend today, happily, is toward greater use of county or area-wide frequencies and a “marked improvement in fire communications has already resulted from the implementation of these problems.”
Maximum efficient allocation of frequencies, however, has its built-in limitations. Improvement of radio traffic from there on will depend upon the voice, or rather the mind, behind the mike.
“Is this message necessary?” is probably the key question that will reduce the traffic jam on the fire service airwaves. All to often information sent over the air is neither important nor urgent and could be just as well handled by a phone call on the scene or back in quarters.
Brevity, clarity, and meaningfulness make for good communication in any medium. But they are nowhere so essential as in emergency radio communication. And any fire department training program that lacks a section on “Proper Radio Procedure” is not serving the needs of the modem fire service.
For an expanded view of fire service communications we suggest you read Dick Nailen’s article on page 42 of this issue.