In this blog we will go through the three main things you need to consider when getting ready for these new requirements. These are:
1) What type of radio equipment meets the needed requirements
2) How does this impact the requirements for the onboard firefighting communication sets
3) What are the best practice options for resolving this regulatory and practical communication challenge?
In our previous blog on SOLAS (Safety of Life At Sea) we tried to provide a condensed overview of the regulatory requirements. Please feel free to provide us with your current views and issues that you are dealing with in trying to find your best solution for this regulatory requirement. .
What type of radio equipment meets the needed requirements?
In the Regulation 10.10.4 we find that fire-fighter radio is described as “..two-way radiotelephone apparatus shall be of an explosion-proof type or intrinsically safe.” As the ship construction is typically a confined space, Faraday-cage and a potentially explosive environment we can see that products compatible with the Directive 2014/34/EU (ATEX) are well suited to meet these requirements. Radios and accessories with the type approval rating as 2G Ex ib IIB T4 or II 2G Ex ib IIC T4 are suited for all ship types including tanker ships.
There are no limitations to what radio frequencies are to be used set in the Regulation 10.10.4, however the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), defines what radio frequencies are to be used onboard naval vessels. Both for UHF (ITU-R M.1174-3) and VHF (Appendix 18 of the Radio Regulations).
Depending on the size of your ship and layout, you might need to consider some type of trunked radio network system to be deployed to assure safe and clear communications on your ship. This you should look into with a known and well established two-way radio system provider.
Please note that it is the responsibility of the ship to provide evidence that the used equipment onboard is fit for purpose and that these can be safely used in the intended environments. It might be worth considering storing this equipment so that it is kept ready for use and that it is easily recognized by the surveyor during the ship survey.
How does this impact the requirements for the onboard firefighting communication sets?
First and foremost, assure that the radio as well as the accessories meet the requirements for the use in potential explosive atmospheres. The Regulation 10.10.4 doesn’t provide any recommendation for the use of audio accessory devices in combination with the firefighter radio. However, it has been found to be extremely impractical if not impossible in most use cases for onboard firefighters to use just a plain two-way radio. For the safety of the firefighters as well as the whole ship and crew make sure that the products purchased, especially the audio accessories are fit for purpose. Take into consideration all the other equipment that the fire fighters are going to be using, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as: helmets, protective clothing, gloves, SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus), fire extinguishing equipment, life-line and torch etc. How is the firefighter / smoke diver going to be using the radio and will he be able to communicate (both speak as well as listen) with the commanders and team members whilst using all this equipment?
What are the best practice options for resolving this regulatory and practical communication challenge?
It is the combination of the personal protective equipment, use case, regulatory and the environmental requirements that really sets the challenges for the selection of the right communications equipment. So once the regulatory requirements are confirmed let us consider the use case from a from a very practical viewpoint:
- Hands full of fire extinguishing equipment, life-line, torch etc.
You don’t want to keep your radio in your hand too because you can drop it and not find it in the thick smoke.
Best practice advice: Attach and secure the radio to your protective clothing.
- Thick protective gloves,
You will struggle to ale to operate the radio with your hands especially if the radio is secured to your body and protected from the environment.
Best practice advice: Choose a rugged remote push-to-talk (PTT) unit or remote speaker microphone (RSM) with a rugged headset connection, type of audio accessory device as the primary means of operating the radio.
- SCBA, face mask and helmet
So, you will find it almost impossible to communicate (both speak and listen) when the radio is secured and you are using the face mask of the SCBA.
Best practice advice: Choose a headset option either integrated to your face mask or a helmet mounted headset device, both of these will allow you to connect to the remote push-to-talk unit or the remote speaker microphone.