I first wrote about the issue of rapid intervention team, or RIT, 10 years ago in an issue of Canadian Firefighter magazine. But, it’s an important subject that’s worth revisiting.
Published in Communication
During our last practice, I set the stage for the evolution to include two firefighters down. This, of course, was unexpected by the incident commander and it was interesting to see them deal with the situation. The two downed firefighters were both told to be unresponsive.
Published in News
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Henry Ford Museum of Innovation in Dearborn, Mich. I must admit that I didn’t really know what to expect, but suffice to say that I assumed that we would be looking at a collection of antique cars and trucks.  
Published in Leadership
I’m sure many of you will agree that experience is the best teacher. Good or bad, we learn from our experiences. It might just be me, but I am seeing more and more white-haired firefighters in my first responder’s circle.  
Published in Communication
The Canadian demographic landscape is extremely diverse, with many languages, cultures, beliefs and values. Yet overwhelmingly, both career and volunteer firefighters are generally white males. As fire service leaders, we need to work much harder to alter this prototype.   
Published in Leadership
The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault is gaining traction around the world – and rightfully so.
Published in Editor's Blog
Every one of us knows the customer experience firsthand. We’re all consumers, and at some point each and every day we receive some form of service. Hopefully, we are treated properly as a customer.
Published in Volunteers
This column was first printed in September 2012, but is worth repeating. While communications may not be an exciting topic for hands-on training, it is necessary. It seems communications is always the one constant denominator in every aspect of our job and it is always being improved upon so that it will work without fail.

Good communication is important and plays a vital role in how well firefighters in a department respond, react and conduct themselves in day-to-day operations. A breakdown in communications leads to a dysfunctional fire department or fire ground.

Different types of communications are used in the fire service that we should all be familiar with and well-versed in. They are written communications, face-to-face communications, electronic communications and radio communications.

In the station, we will be exposed to written, face-to-face and electronic communications.

Written communications include memos, communiques, emails, bulletins and so on. These are usually posted somewhere for all to see or may be directed to one person.

Electronic communications will be in the form of an email sent via mobile phone, text message, Facebook posting, or Twitter. These types of communications will be directed to a single person, for the most part, or to a group of people that have access to the media being used.

On the fire ground, we are limited to certain types of communications that can be used, such as radio, electronic and face-to-face.

Communication by a portable radio is the most common method for most firefighters. A portable radio allows a team of firefighters to remain in contact with the incident commander (IC) and each other. It is a lifeline for a firefighter working on the fire ground. Without it, a firefighter would be left to more primitive ways to communicate such as face-to-face. The portable radio gives distance to the working crew by allowing firefighters to be far away from the IC yet still be able to report back or receive messages. Knowing how to use the portable radio correctly is the key to effective fire ground communications.

Of all the ways to communicate with a person or persons, face-to-face is the best. It allows the receiver and the sender to have instant acknowledgement from each other when passing on information, asking a question or giving an order. Facial expressions, as well as body language, are also used in this method as a way to convey or receive a message. There is an opportunity to clarify a message so that a full understanding is obtained. The downside to face-to-face communications is that it reduces the distance a crew can be from the IC or sector officer. Close proximity must be maintained to remain in contact with each other. Same goes for interior crews working with a limited number of portable radios and/or failure of portable radios. Defaulting back to traditional face-to-face or verbal communications will be the only way to communicate with each other. For some firefighters, this is a lost art.  Dependence upon a portable radio is all they know. Training on how to communicate on the fire ground when the portable radio fails or is lost during an interior operation is a good idea. This will reinforce the traditional skills that are needed when such a situation occurs, and it will happen as a portable radio is an electronic device powered by a battery.

When firefighters are using portable radios on the fire ground, communications can become confusing and/or very hard to follow. This can be due to a number of reasons. One reason is the usage of 10 codes. Using 10 codes in the fire service was removed when the National Incident Management System (NIMS) came into existence. NIMS was created and implemented as a result of the tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. The communications breakdown that day and in the days that followed led to a common plain text language being adopted and used. Plain text language is everyday language that we use and permits people to be able to communicate with each other.

Within NIMS there are also provisions for common terminology to be used on the fire ground. Terms such as sectors, divisions, geographical designations of buildings, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, roger, over and acknowledge are terms that are used in an effort to reduce the amount of confusion over the airwaves when trying to communicate via a portable radio or by other means.

Another reason for communication confusion on the fire ground is firefighters yelling into the radio when trying to speak. When a message is being transmitted by the sender and the individual is yelling into the radio, it will be received as a distorted message with the receiver wondering what was said. This can be due to improper positioning of the radio to the mouth when transmitting. Avoid holding the radio/microphone directly in front of your mouth when speaking. Avoid pushing or swallowing the radio/microphone when speaking. Instead hold the radio/microphone on a 45-degree angle about two inches away from your mouth and you will send a clearer message. If wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, make sure the radio/microphone is positioned at the communication portals on the facepiece, which will allow you to speak clearly and not sound muffled. Holding your breath while relaying the message may also help. Removal of breathing sounds help to amplify the message transmission.

Another method is to hold the radio/microphone directly to the lens of the facepiece when speaking. This requires putting the radio almost at eye level on the outside of the lens. With the radio/microphone in direct contact with the lens, the message comes across a lot clearer for the receiver. Avoid feedback between other radios on the fire ground when transmitting. This can happen when all crew members have a portable radio and one is trying to transmit. The feedback distorts the message. Turn away from other radios when transmitting a message.

Using these simple but basic techniques when communicating on the fire ground will enhance the quality of the transmissions and remove the confusion factor for all.

Mark van der Feyst has been a member of the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario. Mark teaches in Canada, United States and India, and is a FDIC instructor. He is the lead author of the Residential Fire Rescue book. Email Mark at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
Published in Communication
Editor’s Note: This feature is the fourth installment in a five-part series exploring Oak Bay Fire Department’s holistic health and wellness program. 
Published in Health and wellness
What sits on the border of two provinces and matters to every fire department in Canada? If you guessed Ottawa, you are correct. In the last five years, the importance of federal policy has become more pronounced as each province has faced tragedies of national proportion, such as the wildfires in the West, the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster and Humboldt.
Published in Hot topics
Ontario is home to the largest First Nations fire department in Canada. Fire Chief Matthew Miller, along with the rest of his department, have worked hard to bring the service up to snuff – and keep it there.
Published in Inside the hall
Finding candidates that are a good fit for the department is a universal challenge. As psychologist Dr. Lori Gray, said during her seminar at May’s OAFC 2018 show: “The wrong hire can have profound implications for you as a service.” Personal experience is probably bringing a few of these implications to mind now. In addition, she continued, you are not doing justice to candidates by hiring them for a job they are not suited for.
Published in Editor's Blog
There are three fundamental questions that affect all people: Is my home safe? Is my community safe? Am I safe?
Published in Communication
Perhaps the title of this column should be “A Time for Change.” I say this because after more than 10 years of writing for Fire Fighting in Canada, I feel it’s time for me to put my pen away. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I feel I don’t have more leadership lessons to share, it’s just time to focus on other challenges and more travel in the RV.
Published in Leadership
March 12, 2018, Dryden, Ont. — Over 30 volunteer firefighters are continuing job action despite the city giving an ultimatum last week, reports CBC News. |READ MORE
Published in Headlines
Before anyone becomes an emergency-service call taker or dispatcher and fields live emergency calls, you would think there would be a standard level of education, training and certification required. In Ontario, there is not. We are not alone in this situation. There is a movement developing in the United States toward standardized training and certification.
Published in Communication
Jully 6, 2017, Pitt Meadows, B.C. - Pitt Meadows Fire and Rescue are looking to find the people who allegedly verbally harassed Assistant Fire Chief Brad Perrie on the job last week.

Fire Chief Don Jolley says Perrie answered a call on June 29 on the Pitt River dike about people having a campfire, which is explicitly not permitted any time of the year. Global News reports. | READ MORE 
Published in Headlines
Even though police, paramedics, and firefighters are equipped with many tools to help them do their jobs, the ability of different departments to work together continues to challenge teams who are stationed kilometres apart, across several jurisdictions.
Published in Equipment
We all know the fire service is constantly changing. Twenty-five years ago, we had few portable radios; when we sent firefighters into a burning structure we could not contact them other than by yelling at them.
Published in Opinion
It has been seven years since the U.S. National Commission on the Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9-11 Commission) released its report suggesting that communications interoperability among first responders must improve. Yet even now, most Canadian fire, police and ambulance organizations still can’t connect to each other all that easily.
Published in Equipment
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