A new standard for hazardous-use land-mobile radios is expected to be effective as early as this summer, allowing two-way vendors to continue manufacturing existing devices and to develop new product lines for use in the most hazardous environments, according to an official with FM Approvals.

Final approval of the new standard — one that also is being considered by ANSI — will allow LMR manufacturers to continue to develop products with similar performance characteristics to those already in use, said Bob Martell, electrical director for FM Approvals. Many LMR vendors were worried that private radio networks would have to redesigned, because a new intrinsic-safety standard — known as FM 3610 — that became effective on Jan. 1 effectively would force the reduction of power levels in radios, which would impact performance.

But one of the key features of the proposed new standard — FM 3640, which is designed specifically for the LMR industry — is that it will have “minimum impact” on radio performance in comparison with existing LMR products, Martell said.

“We have a draft FM Approvals standard for land mobile radios for use in a Class 1, Division 1 hazardous location — it’s the same classification as the radios that are approved for LMR today,” Martell said. “If all goes well, we’re hoping to have the standard published by the end of the summer.

“It’s a new standard, so the standard could be effective immediately, which means a manufacturer could come into us the day after the standard is published and request approvals to that standard.”

While FM 3640 is not an intrinsic-safety standard — the recently effective FM 3610 remains the intrinsic-safety standard for the industry — it is designed to ensure that users of radios built to comply with the standard can use the equipment safely in even the most hazardous environments, known as Class 1, Division 1 hazardous (classified) locations, Martell said.

“What we’re trying to do is explain to people that there’s many ways to design a radio for use Class 1, Division 1 hazardous locations,” he said. “Intrinsic safety is just one of many concepts. 3640 defines a number of options that can be used by the radio manufacturer in designing a radio for Class 1, Division 1, and this is what they like.”

Martell said there may need to be an “education process” within the LMR community, which traditionally has equated intrinsic safety with the ability to use devices safely in Class 1, Division 1 locations — an important feature for all first responders, particularly those in the fire service.

“What would be nice is to try to get people to stop thinking about that phrase ‘intrinsically safe radios,’” Martell said. “The focus should be on a radio for use in a Class 1, Division 1 location.

“It’s almost like separating the technical issues and technical needs from the marketing that has got people believing something that they might not technically need. We don’t want to tell an end user what they need, but I think it’s an education process where they’re comfortable that this radio can still be used in the same hazardous areas as the ones they’ve been used to for the past century.”

Related stories: