(Appeared in print as "Free to Roam")
There is no question that headset systems have improved dramatically communications, safety and response time for firefighters, EMS/rescue personnel and other first responders. Not surprisingly, the acceptance and success of wired intercom systems that utilize noise-attenuating headsets have paved the way for next-generation wireless system technology.
Wireless headset systems provide all the benefits of their wired counterparts — clear communications both en route and at the scene, as well as the ability to hear and transmit critical commands above the roar of engines and blaring sirens. But they also provide the advantages of greater mobility, freedom and situational awareness, as firefighters and emergency personnel no longer are tethered to vehicles and apparatus.
Wireless communication systems are ideal for a variety of applications, including:
- Fire apparatus
- Aerial buckets
- Pump panels
- Emergency Vehicles/EMS
- Mobile command vehicles
- Let’s examine the types of systems that are available today.
Wireless System Designs
There are two basic types: those that feature headsets with self-contained electronics, and those that feature headsets designed with a short cord that connects to a small belt station worn by the user. Although headsets with self-contained electronics do not require the use of a belt station, there are drawbacks. Equipment must endure a great deal of punishment in the firefighting environment and communication headsets are no exception. Rugged use may cause headsets with self-contained electronics to malfunction or provide less than optimal performance.
Headsets with self-contained electronics also may include permanently built-in batteries. Again, beyond the convenience of having batteries built into the headset domes, this feature can become problematic, as when battery power runs low or the headset ceases to function. When this happens, the entire headset needs to be taken out of operation for recharging, which can take several hours. Built-in batteries also contribute to added headset weight and decreased comfort.
The headset/belt station design was developed to enhance system durability, reliability and comfort, as well as to keep headsets in service even when battery power runs low. Because there are no electronics or batteries housed in the headset domes, such devices are often lighter, more compact and provide greater comfort. Some headset models are available with weather-tight, marine-grade construction for added durability. Most importantly, because the batteries are contained in the belt station and not permanently installed in the headset, they easily can be replaced with fresh batteries should power run low — this eliminates recharging downtime, so the headset always stays in operation.