I will stress that reporters always need to be very careful about posting anything they hear from the airwaves without first confirming it with a public information officer.
In Boston, there is a large database of radio callsigns and signals. Here is a quick guide to the Boston Fire Department. All credit goes to Elliot Belin for doing the research.
First, if you’re tuning to the Boston Fire Department, the primary frequencies are:
- Channel 1: 483.1625 DPL 023 (BFD Channel 1, Dispatch, Main Channel)
- Channel 2: 483.1875 DPL 114 (This is the first frequency used for fireground/incident scenes)
- Channel 3: 483.2125 DPL 516
- Channel 4: 483.2375 DPL 731
- Channel 5: 453.6500 PL 131.8 (Don’t bother with this unless you want to hear tones going off every few minutes for every call in the city)
Once you’re tuned in, you’ll start hearing people referred to by their callsign. Here is what the most used ones mean as of March 28, 2014:
- C-1: Boston Fire Commissioner John Hasson
- C-2: Chief of Department
- C-3: Chief of Operations
- C-16: Catholic Chaplain, Father Daniel J. Mahoney
- C-22: Public Information Officer, Firefighter Steve MacDonald
- Car: The term “car” refers to a District Fire Chief, Numbered 1-12. Car 100-1200 signify the District Chief’s Aide.
- H-1: Safety Chief (Also a district chief)
- H-3: Hazmat Supply Unit
- H-4: Decontamination Supply Unit
- H-5: Technical Rescue Support Unit
- H-6: Collapse Unit
- H-7: Mobile Decontamination Unit
- H-8: Technical Rescue Support Unit 2
- J-1 through J-20: BFD Scuba Team
- K-6 and K-7: Department Fire Investigation Unit Cause and Origin Van and Department Photographer (Usually called out together during fires, doesn’t necessarily indicate arson)
- T-1 through T-23: Special Operations Command
- W-25: Firefighter Rehabilitation/Air Unit (Rolls during working fires)
- A-1: Mayor Martin J. Walsh
- A-5: State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan
- A-16: Union Local 718 President, Firefighter Rich Paris
Elliot’s venerable website also has other amazingly useful information about BFD, including response patterns. For example, as soon as there is a report of a building fire or “struck box” Boston dispatches 3 engine companies, 2 ladder companies, 1 of the city’s 2 heavy rescue units, 1 engine company to serve as the Rapid Intervention Team, and the District Chief for that District. If the responding units confirm that there is an actual fire, an additional ladder company and district chief respond to form a full RIT team, and the W-25 rehab unit rolls out.