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Several handheld firefighter radios fail in simulated tests, NIST researchers find

Firefighters might lose communications during an incident if their handheld radios are exposed to high temperatures, according to new tests conducted by the National Institute of Standards (NIST) and Technology researchers.

According to Fierce Homeland Security, all seven portable radios that were tested failed to perform properly within 15 minutes of being exposed to temperatures of 320 degrees Fahrenheit, or 160 degrees Celsius, in “fully involved” fires, the agency said in a press release.

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The temperature is representative of a phenomenon known as a flashover in which all combustible materials in a room or an enclosed space reach their ignition temperatures at the same time, according to a FireEngineering magazine article.

NIST said four of the radios stopped transmitting and three experienced significant “signal drift,” or noise. In the post-test cool down period, three radios didn’t recover normal function.

However, all radios worked reliably when exposed for 25 minutes to a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 100 degrees Celsius, which is representative of a small fire in a room or fighting a fire from a distance, the agency said.

Under a Homeland Security Department-funded initiative, NIST is testing firefighter equipment, including radios, wearable speakers and microphones, and other devices in an effort to develop performance standards.