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Confined Space Rescue
Why use Hardline Communications?

by: John Wickenhaueser

Hardline communications have been around for many years in various forms, but only recently have they gained prominence in the rescue field. The driving force behind the development of hardline communications for rescue has been the difficulties of maintaining constant safe communications in a confined space rescue incident. But why attempt a challenging rescue with a wire attached to your body instead of using your trusty radio?

Sound Quality

The new throat or bone microphone technology used by the newest systems, coupled interference free transmission allows hardline systems to deliver the highest quality sound possible. This is especially true when the rescuer is wearing an SCBA or a supplied air system.

We have all tried to talk over the radio or face to face through an SCBA mask at a noisy fire ground with limited success. Now imagine you are in the middle of a rescue in the tightest spot you have ever been and you need more slack on your retrieval and air lines but the attendant cannot understand your radio transmissions. Imagine if your transmissions were not being understood and you needed to be hauled out of the space because you had run out of air! You must repeat your message over and over again wasting precious time and air.

Hardline systems eliminate problems with unintelligible transmissions through SCBA masks because the microphone does not pick up the sound from your mouth. Instead it senses vibrations in your throat, ear or skull. The microphones are very specific to these vibrations therefore they do not pick up ambient noise making them excellent for use in high noise environments.

Communications Quality

Hardline is more than just good sound. Hardline is quality communications. This increases safety, efficiency and decreases stress during an operation.

Hardline systems provide continuous communications because they do not depend on pushing a button to talk, or on voice activation. They work as if you were on a telephone conference call, everybody can talk at any time. This may seem confusing, but it ensures that if something happens to the rescuer the attendant will hear it. You don't have to push to talk, just talk!

Another advantage is that the rescuer's hands are free to work while talking. The rescuer can crawl, climb, or treat and package a victim while relaying conditions and planning with the team for the extrication. The attendant can keep asking the entrant questions without slowing the progress of the rescue waiting for the entrant to stop, drop everything and key the radio.

Even if the rescue in the attendant's line of sight and they can yell back and forth, hardline is a great option because it eliminates the yelling. If you can carry on a normal conversation during a stressful incident, the stress levels will drop and the operation will go more smoothly than if you had to yell back and forth. No more yelling means less stress.

The other way that hardline reduces stress and increases efficiency is by allowing the entrant and attendant to talk while the entrant is moving deep into an unknown, tight, and dangerous environment. The attendant can help keep the entrant calm and focused. That familiar calm voice in the rescuer's ear makes the difference between been scared and stressed beyond peak performance and remaining calm, effective and confident.

Safer, Faster, Better…

Intrinsic Safety

To further bolster confidence in these systems, most are intrinsically safe, allowing them to be used in explosive or potentially explosive atmospheres. Only a handful of radios are intrinsically safe and if they are they are very expensive. Be sure to check the specifications of any system you plan to use in hazardous atmospheres so you are aware of it's limitations.

Secure Communications

You are not "live at five" with hardline, you are in your own world limited by the number of people you can plug into the system. Since the world is not listening, the transmissions can be more frank, descriptive and open. This also means that if your area is low on channels, or they are all in use, you can have your own secure channel.

Not Just for Confined Space Rescue

Hardline is not just for confined space rescue, it is for haz-mat, building shoring, high noise, cliff rescue, aerial operation, and anywhere else you need a secure, high quality, safe form of hands free communications.

The only negative, the line you have to tow behind you everywhere you go.


John Wickenhaueser is an instructor and a vice president at Lee & Associates. When not surfing around he is in charge of sales and marketing.

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