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Helping Fire Ground Communications Migrate to Digital Mobile Radio

In these modern times, Fire Rescue Services face many different challenges to their operations, all of which stretch the budget and result in a need to achieve more with less – sound familiar? This perceived cost cutting and the subsequent decisions made invariably result in solutions that, on paper, provide a “cost effective” solution, but more often than not turn out to be a false economy, resulting in poor performance and a route to unforeseen risks and dangers.

To alleviate risk proper communications are critical. Firefighters have their own unique communication requirements, vital not only to their own safety and the successful outcome of their mission, but also to the safety of the public they serve. Firefighters are amongst the many emergency services workers who face the harshest challenges, along with those who work in Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH). These can be the most hostile and punishing of environments. The physical demands placed on an individual, exposed to extreme heat, working in low to zero visibility, cannot be underestimated. Moreover, coping with the necessary PPE kit, comprising fire protection suits, boots, thick gloves, breathing apparatus, helmets and heavy air tanks make their task extremely challenging.

These factors make up one of the most challenging environments for effective communications. Throughout the years analogue two-way radios have attempted to address these challenges but the evolution of purpose designed digital solutions (radio, accessories and communications system infrastructure) drive significant improvements to performance and safety.

Richard Russell, Business Development and Product Specialist at Roadphone NRB, goes on to say, “The key to resilient and safe communications is providing reliable coverage, intelligible audio and reliable energy solutions. It is knowing that your radio and connected accessories have been optimised together – along with any supporting radio infrastructure installed in Tall & Complex building structures.” If the entire system has been tested and proven, you can be sure that you will avoid issues commonly found in DIY configurations, which include poor/unintelligible audio, susceptibility to interference and distorted transmissions, generation of spurious radiated emissions, excessive battery drain and premature battery failure. At Roadphone NRB, these are the key factors we consider when evaluating professional radio & accessory solutions, specifically designed for the Fire Rescue services and particularly so when Tall & Complex buildings require enhanced coverage.

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Radio communication coverage in Tall & Complex buildings brings its own set of challenges requiring specialist RF engineering knowledge. It is an area of expertise Roadphone NRB has great experience in, spanning more than 3 decades.

As the UK’s leading supplier of DMR Tier III trunking systems, Roadphone NRB utilises its “Endurance Technologies” to achieve the highest standards when designing and commissioning highly resilient solutions.

Such systems are not only highly resilient in design but they outperform other commonly used day to day communications systems, with the ability to interface with fire detection and alarm systems - especially important during crisis management situations. Under such circumstances, it is vital that a coordinated approach is taken when involving multiple stake holders, which could include security, fire marshals, facilities management, front of house teams, silver & gold controllers, Building Evacuation Co-ordinators, Emergency Response Teams, maintenance, management and business continuity planners.

Basic requirements of Fire Rescue Services mean that they need maximum RF performance to penetrate brick, concrete and steel reinforced buildings. Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) manufactures such as Motorola Solutions and others have developed their latest radio models and enhanced them for maximum Transmit power while increasing Receiver sensitivity to extend the range of the radio by 10 to 15% - ideal for Fire Ground use and making significant improvements over analogue radio.

However, in Tall and Complex buildings where a balanced RF performance is required throughout all levels, (above and below ground and around the immediate vicinity), bespoke distributed antenna systems become a technical requirement.


However, Fire Ground communications is more than just a radio - it’s an optimised solution that is needed and should be demanded by all FRS’s. An important aspect of the value proposition is to understand that purchasing a radio and connecting an accessory may breach regulatory compliance. There are international standards governing the minimum essential requirements ensuring compliance and safety of radio communication solutions. Defined by ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) standards such as RTTE Directive (Radio Telecommunications Terminal Equipment) which is being by RED (Radio Equipment Directive) in June 2017.

This is to ensure that there is no interference caused by incompatible radios and accessories and poorly designed and installed radios systems. Not all suppliers fully understand this as well as Roadphone NRB. Designed solutions must integrate the radio and accessory correctly whilst providing connectivity and access to the communications system when it is needed the most.


The switch to digital brings significant advantages increased channel efficiency and capacity, Caller ID, digital audio, reducing eavesdropping, improved battery life and enhanced usable range with background noise reduction. But for Fire and Rescue Services the priority is “clear and intelligible audio”. It cannot be overemphasised that the Radio and Accessory solution needs to be properly integrated with BA kit the firefighters’ lifeline. The need to hear and be heard, especially when wearing a helmet and breathing mask is critical. At Roadphone NRB we team up with safety equipment manufacturers such as Dräger Safety and others, to integrate our radio and accessory solution with their secondary audio accessories (mask with microphone and speaker).

The specialist service we provide and most challenging issues experienced by many FRS’s is optimising the whole system, ensuring there are no surprises when you put them in service – you just can’t buy a radio and connect another manufacture’s accessory and expect it to work properly! It’s not that simple…

Roadphone NRB recommends the Motorola DP4000 series portable radios (depending on user requirements) and a newly introduced Remote Speaker Microphone (RSM) designed for the harshest environments. For Hazardous Intrinsically Safe requirements, the Blue ATEX DP4001 Ex series radio is perfect, or for non-hazardous situations choose the black DP4001e Series. They operate in digital mode but also in legacy analogue mode for compatibility with existing radios and systems infrastructure. The new RSM for DP4001e series is an Omni Directional IMPRES™ RSM with integrated Nexus socket to interface with various SCBA manufactures equipment. The RSM’s omni directional performance is enhanced with Motorola’s patented IMPRES™ Audio making it very easy for firefighters and HazMat workers to use “It’s been specifically designed with these users in mind after several years of user feedback” - Richard Russell.

The RSM pictured has two large PTT buttons that can be operated with a gloved hand, facilitating users wearing a breathing mask with integrated microphone or bone-conduction microphone to plug directly into the RSM’s Nexus socket.

The RSM securely connects directly to the radio, ensuring the best and most consistent audio quality. If the user is responding to an incident where their mask isn’t needed they still have the convenience of using the RSM without having to take their radio out of their pocket and leaving both hands free. Boasting the convenience of a Hi/Lo volume toggle, dedicated Emergency button, programmable side button and a 3.5mm socket for discreet listening – all with an impressive IP67 & MIL 810G environmental rating.


Richard Russell goes on to comment, “your radio is only as good as the battery that powers it”. One of the most important elements of your radio is battery performance. Poor battery performance should not be accepted in critical Fire Rescue environment. Batteries & chargers must work as a complete system with the radio to optimise the charge process and overall battery life. Motorola Solutions advanced IMPRES™ Energy solution consists of IMPRES batteries & IMPRES chargers, automatically optimising the charge process and eliminating costly manual battery maintenance regimes and battery analysers. IMPRES Energy extend IMPRES battery life by approximately >43% (150 more charge cycles compared to standard batteries), saving cost through fewer batteries over the life of the radio; more environmentally friendly too. Battery management is a challenge, but IMPRES Battery Management software automatically extracts factual Key Performance Indicators. The Software works with the batteries and chargers via a simple user interface that displays exactly how many charge cycles each battery has had. This enables asset managers to plan for replacement batteries in advance, eliminating guesswork and saving money – you purchase the exact quantity of replacements required.

Digital communication solutions continue to evolve with Body Worn Video and LTE. Both will play a future role, and Roadphone NRB is committed to providing the highest quality service and solutions.

Please visit us at FIREX International at stand F120 and look out for the July/August feature on Intrinsically safe communication solutions.
Richard Russell is a Business Development & Product Specialist for Roadphone NRB – experts at delivering reliable, resilient two-way radio communications solutions.
Discuss your requirements with Richard today – call him on 01778 421250, or email richardrussell@roadphone.co.uk

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