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Chapter 3 . Communications and Alarms. Introduction. This chapter covers: Effective emergency response Effective telecommunication Proactive measures to ensure communication quality: Teaching communications skills to employees Upgrading communications systems

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Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

Communications and Alarms


  • This chapter covers:

    • Effective emergency response

    • Effective telecommunication

    • Proactive measures to ensure communication quality:

      • Teaching communications skills to employees

      • Upgrading communications systems

      • Incorporating modern technology

Figure 3-1 The communications process must be complete and clearly understood in order to be effective.

Communications Personnel

  • Receives emergency requests from citizens

    • Evaluates need for response

    • Sounds the alarm that starts first responders

  • Provide pre-arrival instructions

  • NFPA 1061 standard outlines behavioral characteristics

  • Quality training program; work performance evaluation

  • Adequate staffing level at communications centers

The Communications Facility

  • Many different configurations

    • All receive and disseminate emergency and non-emergency information

  • NFPA 1221 standards for construction of emergency communications centers

    • Built in area where little risk of damage

    • Limited traffic, limited exposure to man-made hazards

    • Few windows; all outside entrances monitored

    • Backup power systems use automatic switching devices

Computers in the Fire Service

  • Many departments incorporate computer systems in the communications systems

  • Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems

    • Handle increased call volume

  • Uses for computers:

    • Create and store records on incidents and activities

    • Aid in statistical analysis

    • Provide remote locations with information

    • Allow access to off-site databases for training or incident mitigation

Receiving Reports ofEmergencies

  • Call-taking process:

    • Receive a report

    • Interview

    • Referral or dispatch composition

  • Speed is very important during interview

  • Telecommunicators must prioritize calls

    • Most important calls should get fastest attention

Figure 3-7 This figure illustrates the work flow of call processing by a public safety telecommunicator.

Receiving Reports ofEmergencies (cont’d.)

  • Calls should be answered in following priority:

    • 9-1-1 and other emergency lines

    • Direct lines

    • Business or administrative lines

  • Telecommunicators should:

    • Speak slowly and clearly with good volume

    • Project authority and knowledge

    • Use plain, everyday language, polite and friendly

Receiving Reports ofEmergencies (cont’d.)

  • Telecommunicator must control the conversation

    • May be difficult for caller to relay elements of situation

    • Ask short, specific questions

  • Non-emergency calls should be accommodated

    • Prior to transferring, provide the number to the caller

  • Obtain the following information:

    • Location and nature of the emergency

    • Callback number, caller’s location and situation

Receiving Reports ofEmergencies (cont’d.)

  • Once caller provides location, secure additional information such as landmarks if safe

  • Life safety is of primary importance

    • Determine if caller is in danger

    • If so, provide pre-arrival instructions

  • Information relayed to field units via radio

  • Note caller’s proximity to incident location

    • Useful in locating incidents

Receiving Reports ofEmergencies (cont’d.)

  • Once sufficient address and incident type verified, deploy emergency apparatus

  • Average citizen will only report one emergency in a lifetime

  • Call takers must ask the right questions to generate meaningful responses

  • Emergency medical calls require much more information

Methods of ReceivingReports of Emergencies

  • Common means for receiving reports:

    • Conventional telephones

    • Wireless or cellular telephones

    • Emergency call boxes

    • Automatic alarms

    • TDD equipment for hearing impaired

    • Still alarms or walk-ups

Receiving Reports byTelephone

  • Conventional telephones most commonly used

  • Cellular telephones becoming more popular

  • 93 percent of the population of the U.S. covered by some type of 9-1-1

    • 95 percent is enhanced 9-1-1

  • Enhanced 9-1-1 service provides telephone number and address from originating call

  • Basic and advanced service available through residential and business lines

Receiving Reports viaCellular Telephones

  • Any 9-1-1 calls initiated with cell phone routed to a predetermined answering point

  • Negative aspects of cell phone use:

    • Significant increase in call center volume

    • Callers less likely to know their location

    • Cell phone manufacturers must provide means to locate cell phone users

  • Satellite technology can provide exact position

Receiving Reports via Municipal Fire Alarm Systems

  • Coded or voice message is generated from an alarm box

    • Came into use in late 1800s

  • Located in a highly visible place open to the general public

  • Can be hardwired or wireless and solar-powered

  • Discontinued in many cities due to false alarms

Figure 3-10 Some call boxes are equipped with signal switches that allow the caller to select the type of emergency being reported.

Receiving Reports viaAutomatic Alarm Systems

  • Two types of public alarm systems

  • Five common types of automatic alarm monitoring system:

    • Local protective signaling system

    • Auxiliary protective signaling system

    • Remote station protective signaling system

    • Central station protective signaling system

    • Proprietary protective signaling system

Receiving Reports via TDD

  • Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDDs) more common

    • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitles citizens to equal service from public agencies

  • Communications centers required to receive calls with specialized equipment

  • Devices serve as a backup when enhanced 9-1-1 or CAD are present

Receiving Reports via StillAlarm or Walk-Ups

  • Receiving complete and accurate information is important

  • Protocols for different departments may vary

  • Specific notification systems covered in departmental protocols

  • Ring down circuits, base radio, mobile radio communicate with the communications center

    • Important to notify communications center

Figure 3-16 A firefighter relays information from the fire station to the communications center via direct telephone circuit.

Emergency Services Deployment

  • Address is the most important information from the caller

  • Emergency response organizations identify common situations

    • Pre-assign a standard response to each situation

  • Deployment plan based on apparatus types, equipment, number of personnel, and skills

  • Manual run card system

    • Card file containing street and location information

    • Predetermined unit assignments for each location

Emergency ServicesDeployment (cont’d.)

  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS) aid in deployment of responders

  • Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) uses GPS technology to pinpoint incident location

    • Can also detect closest response vehicle

  • After determining appropriate deployment scheme, responders are notified

Figure 3-18 AVL systems help to locate the response unit closest to an incident location.

Emergency ServicesDeployment (cont’d.)

  • Fire station alerting must comply with NFPA standards

    • Voice message transmitted from communications center to fire station via vocal alarm system

  • Operate via control unit connected to telephone circuits or radio transmitter

  • Telecommunicator decides appropriate fire stations to notify and activate

Traffic Control Systems

  • Emergency preemption systems control traffic signals

    • Provide safe transition to priority right-of-way for emergency vehicles

  • Systems may allow response vehicle to change the traffic control signals en route

  • Variety of systems, each using different technology

Radio Systems and Procedures

  • Once personnel deployed, communicators provide support

    • Radio system is the primary link

  • Simplex system: one frequency to transmit outgoing messages and to receive incoming

    • Advantage: simplistic design; reduced cost

    • Disadvantage: limited range; interference

  • Duplex system: two frequencies per channel

  • Multisite trunking: multiple transmitters on different channels

Figure 3-30 Multisite trunked radio systems provide perhaps the best coverage and also offer direct benefits associated with the most efficient use of radio resources.

Radio Systems andProcedures (cont’d.)

  • Proper radio discipline is important

    • Avoid clipping beginning or end of message

    • Be brief but concise

    • Avoid touching any radio antenna to avoid burns

    • Do not eat, or use slang, profanity or jargon

    • Speak clearly across the microphone

  • Portable units should be held perpendicular to ground with antenna pointing skyward

Figure 3-31 This figure shows the proper use of a mobile radio microphone.

Figure 3-32 Improper use of a mobile microphone.

Figure 3-33 The user has positioned the portable radio properly and is speaking across the microphone.

Figure 3-34 This figure shows the improper positioning of a portable radio.

Radio Systems andProcedures (cont’d.)

  • Ten codes make up a predetermined message

    • More confidential and cryptic

    • Must be learned and remembered

  • Clear speech conveys information, issues instructions

    • Eliminates confusion associated with radio codes

  • Electronic tones alert firefighters to evacuate

    • Some systems use air horns

Radio Reports

  • Communications officer is incident commander until field units arrive on scene

  • First unit arriving gives size-up

    • Brief information about on-scene conditions

    • Clear, precise language

Radio Reports (cont’d.)

  • Size-up contains:

    • Correct address

    • Situation evaluation

    • Emergency location in the building

    • Building information, potential occupants

    • Request for other agency support

    • Location of on-scene command post

    • Identity of incident commander

    • Brief action plan for the incident

Radio Reports (cont’d.)

  • First status report made 10 minutes into incident

  • Follow-up reports every 10 to 15 minutes until situation under control

  • Firefighters must call mayday the moment they may be in trouble

    • Mayday must receive priority over the radio

  • Procedures must be in place for calling a mayday

    • Firefighters must know procedures

Mobile Support Vehicles

  • Mobile support vehicles (MSVs) used for major invents involving fire and EMS

    • Provide an on-scene command post from which operations can be directed

    • Deployment determined by size of incident, projected duration of activities

  • MSVs highly specialized

    • Size depends on jurisdiction


  • Complete and accurate communications center records maintained on all responses

  • Routine practice in most communications centers to record all emergency traffic

  • Fire reports are public record

  • Minimum information:

    • Call time, units dispatched, dispatch times

    • Arrival time, command post information, requests

    • All-clear time, under-control time, back-in-service times for all units

Lessons Learned

  • Telecommunicator is the first person “on the scene”

    • Direct impact of citizens’ impression of department

    • Collects information accurately and rapidly transmits to first responders

    • Answers incoming calls quickly, gains control of the call, and calms caller

    • Makes wise use of all available resources

    • Plays vital role in successful outcome of an emergency incident

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