One of my favorite television commercials at the moment is one that touts the services of a commercial wireless carrier in the Midwest. In it, a young woman receives a call and records the message using a bulky tape recorder she has fished out of her purse. She needs to do this because her carrier never showed her how to use the voice message feature on her handset.

What the commercial doesn't say is that the woman probably tried to read the owner's manual and couldn't make any sense of it. If so, she wouldn't be all that unusual, I think. Most of us learn best by doing, or having someone show us how to do it. I can still remember trying to figure out how to operate my very first video recorder. After wasting several hours reading the manual — and not having any 10-year-olds around the house at the time — I sheepishly trudged back to the store. Five minutes with the sales rep who sold me the unit were all that I needed for the light bulb to go on.

Armed with this perspective, I am amazed at the lack of training first responders receive concerning their radio systems. At the recent IWCE 2004 in Las Vegas, I attended a seminar on public-safety communications, during which I heard story after story indicating that while police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians get plenty of instruction in their job functions, they get little to no training on the single most crucial piece of equipment they have in their possession, in terms of keeping them alive.

Recently, I spoke with one of the session leaders, Steve Proctor, who is executive director of the Utah Communications Agency network, a quasi-state agency that operates and maintains a 10-county regional communications system serving 109 separate public safety agencies. Steve told me that police officers in his state receive 80 hours of training per year in police procedures, but virtually none in how to use their radios. He said the situation startled him. It startles me, too.

Mobile radio equipment vendors work extremely hard to continually introduce advanced features to the systems employed by first responders; the effort is for naught if first responders aren't taught how to use them. Anecdotally, we know that most police officers never fire their guns in the line of duty. But they all use their radios, occasionally in extreme situations that require them to vary from their daily routines.

Given this, doesn't it make sense for officers to cut back a bit on the time they spend on the firing range and use it to become as adept with their radios as they are with their firearms?