How radios that meet the NFPA 1802 requirements can enhance firefighter safety
When you’re evaluating new firefighting equipment to buy, one question overrides all others – will it keep your crew safe?
For decades, a way to help answer that question has been to look for the NFPA mark. It’s a confirmation that the equipment has been designed, built and tested to hold up under the rigors of a firefighter’s job. And now, thanks to the recent publication of the NFPA 1802 standard, you can find that mark on one of the firefighter’s most critical tools – their portable two-way radio.
NFPA 1802 defines aggressive requirements that radios must meet to show they can survive and operate in the extreme firefighting conditions. And now, the standard is helping create a new generation of portable radios that are more rugged and robust than any radio previously fielded.
Keeping communication lines open
NFPA 1802 is the result of years of hard work by dozens of committee members to help make sure firefighters can count on their radios and remote speaker microphones in even the most punishing conditions.
NFPA 1802-compliant radios are already on the market. And by meeting the hefty requirements in the standard, they’re helping enhance firefighter safety and effectiveness in several ways.
Performance under duress
There’s no telling what a firefighter and their radio will be subjected to on any given job – equipment must survive a burst of extreme heat, a long fall to the ground, a high-pressure water blast. To help make sure the devices can hold up in these and other punishing scenarios, NFPA 1802 requires that radios pass a series of durability tests.
In one test, they’re exposed to 350-degree heat for 15 minutes and then submerged in water for another 15 minutes. To pass this thermal shock test, the radios need to remain operational after enduring this heat-and-soak cycle not once but a total of six times.
If that wasn’t enough, the radios are also scorched by a 1,700-degree flame for 10 seconds. They’re put under pressure by a 442-pound compression test. They’re tumbled for three hours, as well as vibrated for another three hours. They’re dropped onto concrete, multiple times, from nearly 10 feet. And they’re subjected to 48-hour salt-spray and humidity tests. Just another day in the life of a firefighter.
Ease of use
Firefighters don’t have the luxury of using their radios in optimal conditions. They quickly find themselves in zero visibility conditions and saddled with bulky protective gear that limits their movement. NFPA 1802 addresses this by requiring that firefighters be able to operate a radio while wearing NFPA-compliant gloves. They must, for example, successfully be able to push the radio’s buttons and rotate its knobs.
Additionally, when the radios are on scene in “hazard mode,” they prevent the user from inadvertently changing channels or powering down the radio. They also must default to a loud volume setting, improving the likelihood that firefighters hear radio transmissions even in loud and chaotic situations.
NFPA 1802 also requires that radios and speaker microphones use a universal connector. This interoperability requirement means that firefighters won’t have to worry about if radios and speaker microphones will connect as long as the devices are complaint with the standard.
The standard further eases firefighters’ abilities to use radios by requiring that they be able to connect with Bluetooth-certified accessories. This can allow firefighters, for example, to communicate using the microphone in their SCBA mask.
Awareness of radio issues
Disruption of radio communications can be catastrophic for firefighters. NFPA 1802-compliant radios proactively address this risk with several notifications to keep the user informed of the status of their connection.
For instance, radios must use voice annunciations to inform firefighters of specific radio issues, such as a low battery condition, if the radio is overheating, or if it’s being powered off. The radios can also detect when a remote speaker microphone cable has been compromised and announce that to firefighters.
A new standard in safety
The arrival of NFPA-compliant portable radios is a major advancement in firefighter safety. For fire chiefs, it’s a new opportunity to increase crew safety by equipping them with rugged and robust radios designed for the harshest aspects of their jobs. For firefighters, NFPA-compliant radios can give them peace of mind. When they see the NFPA mark, they’ll know their most critical tool – their lifeline in critical moments – has been defined by firefighters for firefighters.
By Todd Perdieu, Director of Product Experience at L3Harris