NFPA Developing Standard for Portable Radios Used in Hazardous Situations

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment has begun the development of a standard to improve the portable radios used by fire fighters in hazardous locations. The proposed standard, NFPA 1802, STANDARD ON PERSONAL PORTABLE (HAND-HELD) TWO-WAY RADIO COMMUNICATIONS DEVICES FOR USE BY EMERGENCY SERVICES PERSONNEL IN THE HAZARD ZONE began work last year, spurred on by a tragic line of duty death of two San Francisco fire fighters in a house fire in June 2011.

The committee chair, Bob Athanas, himself a Fire Department of New York firefighter, said “This is a very important new initiative of the NFPA. For many years there have been complaints about portable radios not being robust enough to survive the environments that we work in daily. Now we have a chance, with both user and industry input, to ensure that we can create a new standard for fire fighter radios.”

The NFPA Staff Liaison to the Technical Committee, Dave Trebisacci, said: ”NFPA is an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. There are over 300 NFPA codes and standards which are written and revised by over 200 technical committees. The NFPA consensus process ensures that there is balanced representation on each technical committee, and it includes the opportunity for public input and comment to any code or standard.

The committee currently has several major fire departments represented including Boston, Carrollton TX, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco as well as the US Forest Service. Additionally, a number of vendors of two radio equipment or accessories are participating including EF Johnson, Harris, Kenwood, Motorola, Otto, Tait and more. In addition, various industry organizations that may have an interest in the progress of this committee are being updated periodically, including the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).

The committee’s work began in earnest last year. The committee has to consider many facets of portable radios and internal task groups have been formed to consider issues such as physical robustness including high temperature survivability, environmental testing, ease of use (ergonomics), intrinsically safe ratings, and programmable feature sets, and voice audio quality. While the main focus initially is on land mobile portable radios as used by fire departments today, the committee is keeping an eye on developments with the new national public safety broadband network (FirstNet) that may change some of the devices and technology first responders’ use for communications. More information on this committee may be found on the NFPA Website: www.nfpa.org/1802