On the air – What’s the deal with radio straps?
Common questions facing fire departments across the country are, “What’s the deal with radio straps? Should we use them? What are the pros and cons?”
In 2013, Fairfax County Virginia did an in-depth study of radio straps and released a report. Originally, Fairfax County, and many other departments, actually had a policy dictating that portable radios must be worn in the turnout coat radio pocket (no straps!). The Fairfax County Communications division decided to do this study, looking at all aspects of radio pocket vs radio strap. The study looked at signal loss, radio damage, LODDs (line of duty deaths), near misses, and interviews with firefighters who use the radios.
Fairfax County Study (see the full PDF report here)
One of the biggest issues with coat radio pockets is that when a firefighter is crawling, the radio is facing the floor, and shielded by the their body, causing loss of signal. Radios falling out of pockets and speaker mic damage were also a major concern. In the study, they compared the strap being worn over the coat and under the coat. They found that under the coat was the best choice as it protected the radio and mic from heat and entanglement issues.
The study concluded that the best way for a firefighter to carry a radio is, in a radio strap, under the turnout coat, adjusted long enough so the antenna hangs just below the coat. I strongly suggest you click the link above and read the full report.
For me personally, I have been using a radio strap for years, and find it to be very convenient. Between training, medical calls, inspections and other duties that don't require turnout gear, it’s a quick and easy way to carry my radio. When I have to put on my gear, the radio just slips right over my suspenders and under my coat.
Radio straps have also become so much more than just a way to carry your radio and speaker mic. They have become a tool belt of sorts. I also carry a leatherman tool and flashlight on mine. I have seen others who have keys, pens, and other items on theirs. Again, when out doing an inspection or on a medical call, its handy to have a multi tool and flashlight right there at your fingertips, but not hanging off your hip all day long when you don't need them.
If you are a career, call or volunteer firefighter, you should consider getting a radio strap for both the convenience and safety.
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Dennis Nazzaro has been a Firefighter/EMT in Western Massachusetts for over 20 years, and has worked for the Northampton Fire Department since 2004. He also works for the Department of Fire Service (DFS) Special Operations Team, and the Massachusetts Fire Academy (MFA) as an instructor. Dennis is a Communications Unit Leader and Technician (COML/COMT) for the Massachusetts Communications Unit (MACOMU) and the Northwest Massachusetts Incident Management Team (NWMIMT). He is also a member of the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Interoperable subcommittee and Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee policy and programs subcommittee. Dennis has been involved with development of the MIFOG, SCIP, MTCP as well as WMLEC expansion and working with local, regional and state communication systems.