The Loveland-Symmes (Ohio) Fire Department recently added HME’s DX300ES, a wireless digital spread spectrum intercom system, to its incident-commander field-training simulator. The fire department needed a communication system that would let training officers test users’ communications skills during National Incident Management System (NIMS) training, as well as record transmissions for follow-up discussions, Deputy Chief Andrew Knapp said.

The fire department is part of Ohio’s Northeast Fire Collaborative (NEFC), an intradepartmental collaborative network with several other fire departments in the region comprised of 365 firefighters across five departments with 13 stations in total. The NEFC also safeguards six cities and townships adjacent to Cincinnati. Knapp said its training center uses a software-based system that shows multiple views of an incidents via computer consoles or wireless laptops in order to simulate NIMS-compliant, blue card hazard zone management training designed to manage NIMS Type-4 and Type-5 incidents.

“It’s a command training simulator system we’ve built,” he said. “To make it as realistic as possible, we wanted technology that incident commanders will be using in the field, such as the wireless radio devices. If we had to just act like we were communicating over radios, it doesn’t have nearly the realism of actually using a radio system with headphones and incorporating the discipline into the core components of the training.”

Four to 10 firefighters, made up of apparatus crews and chief officers/incident commanders, are outfitted with wireless belt packs, headsets and the video tutorial presentation on computer screens that provide them with a particular view to a simulated incident. Originally, the department looked at wired systems often used in apparatus to support voice communications, but system wasn’t ergonomically friendly, especially since users were plugged in often for eight hours, Deputy Chief Josh Blum said.

“We found this wireless system was very lightweight, similar to what dispatchers used,” Blum added. “And the belt pack lets you go wireless.”

Blum said all simulation voice communications are transmitted from a central control box that is hooked to a radio that is supported by a repeater, and they are simultaneously recorded for later training use. Recording voice offers a way for officers to self-evaluate their communication skills, creating a better learning environment, he said.

“With all communications, people often think they said something but really they didn’t or spoke too fast to be intelligible,” Blum said. “And there’s no better way to correct communications then through playing back recordings.”

The addition of the headsets meant participants could use real-life communication systems and voice communications without risk to life, Knapp said. It meant users could practice radio transmissions, including radio etiquette and discipline, in a controlled environment.

“The whole simulation program is used to help our communications with the companies and incident command,” he added. “The controlled simulations let incident commanders refresh their skills and new incident commanders work on their skills without any risk of anyone getting hurt in a real fire environment.”