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Article - Trade Publication

For Mine Safety Appliances (MSA)

Communicating Effectively When Seconds Count

Here's the scenario: it's the middle of the night and you're a member of a fire department that's been summoned to a big, ugly four-alarmer--a building burning out of control. While several firemen with high-pressure hoses encircle the building, trying with every fiber of their being to bring the monster down, you are among those whose command is to go in and rescue the unfortunate people who didn't get out in time. They're trapped on the second floor and you have the awesome responsibility of getting them out safely and quickly, but most important, alive.

Seconds count, you remind yourself as the ladder goes up and you go in. Almost immediately the heat from the flames is blasting you as you charge forward. The smoke is dense, black and thick and you can't see a thing. Teamwork is the only thing that's going to make this rescue work. But how do you work as a team when you can't see or hear your teammates?

There are few situations more desperate than a group of firefighters groping their way through a thick wall of smoke and trying to keep track of one another when human lives hang in the balance. The ability to communicate with their counterparts and with the base of operations is not only important--it's crucial to doing the job.

Realizing the need to increase safety and productivity, MSA developed the Ultra Elite ESP Communications System, a one-piece voice projection device used on MSA air masks that enables firefighters to speak normally, yet be heard loudly and clearly under the most noisy and adverse conditions.

The state-of-the-art unit, which offers the option of hands-free, or, if preferred, push-to-talk operation, is compatible with fire departments' existing handheld radios, and is powered by an easy-to-install, standard nine-volt alkaline battery which provides up to 18 hours of worry-free communication. The unit is as comfortable to wear as it is easy to use, and is incredibly rugged, resistant to water, flame, heat, and impact. And it offers 90 percent visibility.

"This is always an issue when you go into a burning building," says a veteran firefighter. We sometimes go from one end of a building to another to get the victims, who are scared and often panicking, and we often can't see where we're going. We have to be able to communicate with each other under whatever conditions we encounter. We don't have the time to be worried about our equipment. It just has to do what we need it to do.

Compare the conditions firefighters work under to those experienced by such other mission-oriented teams as astronauts in outer space, and military units like Navy SEALS and fighter pilots. The comparisons aren't far-fetched when you consider that, in all cases, clear, effective communication is always of the highest priority when it comes to successful completion of the mission.

Like these teams, firefighters need to have every assurance that they will be able to speak to each other and hear each other at all times while the fire is raging and the situation continues to grow increasingly chaotic. Communicators like the Ultra Elite ESP provide the technology that allows firefighters to stay in touch when they need it most, with no distortion, feedback, interference, or loss of signal.

The unit was developed by MSA with the help of firefighters across the country, who provided valuable consultation regarding what features they demanded and considered most important. The versatile unit is easy to install into the firefighter's face piece--even with gloves--and can be moved from one face piece to another in a snap. Because of its resistance to water, it can also be worn during decontamination or while showering down.


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Copyright © 2003 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
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