Why is Verbal Communication a Key Skill for Firefighters?

Do you know why verbal communication is a key skill for firefighters?

Communication is vital for the success of any emergency operation. Clear verbal communication is also essential for firefighter safety.

We look at the types of verbal communication, why great verbal communication skills are so important to the firefighter role, and the different situations in which you might have to use them.

Types of Communication

Let’s look at the four types of verbal communication:

  • Intrapersonal Communication: This form of communication is private and restricted to ourselves. It’s essentially the silent conversations we have with ourselves, where we process our thoughts and actions. This communication can then either be conveyed verbally to someone or stay confined as thoughts.
  • Interpersonal Communication: This is where communication takes place between two individuals – a one-on-one conversation.
  • Small Group Communication: Here the number of people will be small enough to allow each participant to interact and converse with the rest. Team meetings are great examples of group communication.
  • Public Communication: This type of communication takes place when one individual addresses a large gathering of people – a community safety talk would be a relevant example here.

Communication doesn’t just mean talking to someone. It can take the form of giving instructions or direction, using persuasive techniques to convince someone to do something, or even asking questions to consolidate information.

An often overlooked benefit of being a good communicator is that it can help you build rapport with others. This is especially important when you’re working as a firefighter as part of a close-knit team – you want your colleagues to trust and respect you.

Emergency Incidents

In an emergency situation, verbal communication reinforces visual observations, ‘sets the stage’ for the incident, and provides valuable information for everyone involved.

Clear, complete and effective communication is essential in an emergency. Read any case study or press covering of a disaster, and nine times out of ten, you’ll find one of the ’causes’ involved was poor communication.

Verbal communication doesn’t just take place on a person-to-person basis. It’s important you can communicate verbally via technology too.

UK FRS Radio Communication

UK FRSs use digital and analogue radios to communicate. On the way to a fire or incident, firefighters use the Airwave TETRA network to talk to each other, and to the dispatcher in the command and control centre. They can also collect information on the incident en route via this network.

At the scene of the fire, firefighters rely on their portable two-way radios. A house fire might involve a team outside damping down the fire, and breathing apparatus (BA) teams working in pairs, who are counted in and out of the building by the entry control officer. They use two separate radio channels, a BA channel and an incident channel.

These communication solutions have to work together seamlessly in order for firefighters to work safely and efficiently in dangerous, time-critical situations. Therefore it stands to reason that the communication itself needs to be crystal clear.

Communicating in the Community

An incredibly important part of the firefighter role is providing education to the community, to prevent the type of behaviour that leads to emergency situations in the first place. UK FRSs will have a Community Safety and Partnership department, which will provide this education via a number of initiatives.

This might include community talks, school visits, home ‘Safe and Well’ visits, youth engagement, and Road Safety campaigns.

Good communication skills are important to get the message across. As you’re working within an incredibly diverse community, particularly if you’re in a city-based station, you need to be able to communicate with all types of audience.

This might include people who are elderly, vulnerable, or have learning disabilities. You might also be interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds who are non-native language speakers. This is why you need to be a capable and adaptable communicator.

Tips for Verbal Communication Skills

The following tips are aimed at helping you improve your verbal communication skills. Practising them will help build your overall communication skillset, meaning you’ll be more capable in any given situation.

1. Think before you speak

By organising your thoughts in advance, you can relay your information more clearly and concisely. This can also be helpful in eliminating awkward pauses in group discussions or public talks.

2. Be clear and concise

The most effective way to get your point across is to make it in a clear and concise manner. Avoid using complex sentences, or jargon/local dialect, and try to state your argument in direct language.

3. Speak with confidence

Speaking in a confident manner will help you build trust, and command the respect of your audience. There are several factors which can help here – word choice, tone of voice, body language, and eye contact.

4. Be an active listener

Communication is a two-way street! Being a good listener is as important as being a good speaker, and it will improve the quality of your verbal interactions. Remember the 5 stages of active listening:

  • Receiving
  • Understanding
  • Remembering
  • Evaluating
  • Responding

It shows the person you’re speaking with that you care about their ideas, and understand their needs. Summarise what you’ve heard and ask further questions. This will help you build trust and rapport.

5. Be aware of non-verbal communication cues

Your body language impacts the way others interpret what you say. Pay attention to your gestures, facial expressions, and body language to ensure they align with the message you’re trying to get across. It’s equally important to be able to read the body language of the people you’re speaking to.

6. Think from the perspective of your audience

Just because you know a topic inside out doesn’t mean your audience does. Try to think about how someone else will understand what you are trying to communicate, particularly if they lack the technical knowledge that you have.

We hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Whether you’re a serving firefighter, or just thinking about applying, your communication is an area that can always be improved upon.

It’s very important for applicants to the UK Fire Service to prioritise this. Not only will good communication be incredibly helpful to you in your interview, you may also need this skill during earlier parts of the firefighter recruitment process, for example group discussions, roleplays, or presentations.

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FRS Team

Our team of experts have the many years of Fire Service experience and are up to date with the latest selection news.

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