Firefighter Training Drill: Face Piece Communications

Indianapolis firefighter with full SCBA and face piece
Photo courtesy Rita Reith, Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department.

It’s critical that firefighters be able to communicate with each other and incident command while on the fireground. When wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), it can be exceedingly difficult to communicate through the face piece, regulator, and the radio. Many firefighters will want to speak through the regulator by holding the radio mic at the base of the regulator and transmitting their message that way. The difficulty with this is the message comes across muffled because of the regulator blocking the clarity of the message.

All SCBA manufacturers have built into their face pieces a way to communicate with either speaking diaphragms or an amplification device. Sometimes these devices make the communication clearer and sometimes it produces more feedback over the portable radio.

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Regardless of the SCBA manufacturer or the options available with the SCBA, one way to increase the quality of your communications is to hold the radio mic directly to the face piece of the SCBA. By making contact with the lens of the face piece, the radio mic will pick up the voice and what is being said and transmit it much clearer than by holding it two inches away from the speaking diaphragm. Try this technique out in training to see if there is a noticeable difference with your communications.  

Another aspect to keep in mind is the message itself being transmitted. Keeping the message concise is the key to clear communications. Think before you speak. Think about what you want to say before saying it; this will help with keeping the message concise and on point. When speaking, be clear. Take your time speaking so that the message comes across clear. Speaking too fast will muffle the message and make it unintelligible.

Equipment needed: SCBA, face piece, full structural firefighting gear, portable radio

Goal: To practice clear communications while speaking through the face piece over a portable radio.  

Drill:

  1. Using a team of two firefighters wearing their SCBA and face piece, separate them so that they cannot see each other.
  2. Using a portable radio, transmit a message to each other (for example, read a section of this article).
  3. First do this in a quiet environment and then try it again in a noisy environment.
  4. Have each firefighter read passages to each other. Place the radio mic on the face piece lens to communicate the message
  5. Try doing the same thing holding the radio mic in different locations on the face piece – on the voice emitters, speaking diaphragms, in front of the regulator and so forth.  This will help to show the difference in clarity of transmitting a message with your specific type of SCBA.

Key points:

  1. Speak slowly when transmitting your message over the radio.
  2. Depress the radio mic and wait a second or two before speaking to ensure your message is not cut off.
  3. Place the radio mic on the lens of the face piece to transmit clearly .

As with any skill, radio communications require practice. Training these techniques until they are second nature will enable your firefighters to be prepared for the dynamic situations that may arise on the fireground.

Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).

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