HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

Firefighter Radios Vulnerable to Fires

Ever since September 11th, emergency radio interoperability has been among the most important priorities and critical challenges facing disaster recovery efforts. And yet, it seems that the manufacturers of this type of equipment have forgotten basic requirements while they rush new equipment into the field. So much money has been spent on first responder communications and equipment.

But a recent report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that found that many first responders cannot use their intra-agency radios during routine firefighting operations due to high temperatures. As temperatures increase, operability decreases.

A report in Science Magazine based on a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology affectionately known as N.I.S.T.) that first responders can't rely on their unprotected handheld radios even in routine firefighting situations, much less in higher-temperature fires, where good communications are especially crucial.

The NIST study tested three representative radios, all having a maximum operating temperature of 140 degrees. While subjecting these radios to varying levels of heat (there are three different thermal classes to which firefighters are equipped to withstand: Thermal Class 1, with a maximum temperature of 212 degrees for 25 minutes; Thermal Class 2, with a maximum temperature of 320 degrees for 15 minutes; and Thermal Class 3, with a maximum temperature of 500 degrees for 5 minutes), the results were far from glowing (forgive the pun).

At Thermal Class 1, one of the radios shut down entirely while the others suffered significant transmission problems. None survived Class 2, and it appears the scientists involved did not even consider at that point testing at Class 3.

Detailed results and recommendations from the NIST test will be submitted to the National Fire Protection Association and other appropriate standards-setting bodies.

Our first responders, especially America's Bravest (the firefighters) deserve better.