SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Fire Department has landed a grant to purchase a headset communication system for its lead truck to block out noise and make it easier for firefighters to speak to one another en route to a fire emergency.

Firefighter Matthew Quinn, who spearheaded the funding effort, said Brookfield Renewable Energy has offered a grant of $7,808 for five units to go into the department’s Engine 10.

“They go in the cab of the fire engine and you can talk to dispatch over the radio, and at the same time you can have an intercom back and forth where you can talk two-way, like we’re having a conversation right now,” Quinn said. “You can push a button and you don’t need your hands, and it’s so loud in those cab that you can’t hear each other. Then you add the siren and the sound of the motor; it gets very loud in there.”

Quinn said the units have a 23-decibel rating for sound reduction, which adds hearing protection to the mix. The units are similar to what airline pilots use in the cockpit for communication.

The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen has approved the grant, and now the Fire Department with either go out to bid on the purchase or buy the set if the price is below the $7,500 threshold, Fire Chief Shawn Howard said. Quinn said two top-ranked companies offer what the department needs: the David Clark Co. and Firecom, with its “listen through” technology.

Quinn displayed an older David Clark headset to illustrate how the technology works. He said the new sets will be added to the existing inventory of noise-cancelling communication equipment.


“When you’re riding tailboard  which is riding backwards in the seat — and you don’t have eye contact and your voice is going back and you’re always turning around, you can’t communicate,” he said. “When we have three guys on the truck or when we have four or five and a full cab, being able to communicate before you get to the fire is huge,” Quinn said. “The other thing is when dispatch talks to us over the radio, all of us will be able to clearly hear updates, the address, new information. It helps a lot.”

Quinn said Skowhegan resident Hal Bigelow, an employee of Brookfield, came into the fire station last fall and told the fire crews that the company was offering grants for emergency equipment. He said fire departments in Bangor, Auburn and other cities in Maine have the headset communication systems, so he jumped at the chance to get one for Skowhegan.

Quinn said he asked for the sets for two trucks at first, but the price was too steep for a one-time grant — $15,000 or $16,000 — so they went with Engine 10 to start with and hope to equip Truck 11, which is the ladder truck, possibly with other revenue sources, also at some point in the future.

He said the devices are easy to use and don’t need much of anything in the way of training.

Howard, the fire chief, said the devices are valuable to any fire department in terms of communication on the way to a big fire like the one that occurred last week in an apartment house on Water Street.

“The biggest value is, when you’re sitting in the front seat of one of those trucks, it’s loud,” he said. “You’re sitting over the motor and it’s noisy in there. The guys in the back seats can’t easily have a conversation with the officer in the front seat. This helps with that. You’ve got the headset on and you’ve got effective communication.


“Communication is the key. When we’re responding to a scene, there’s a lot going on — tactics, operations — so instead of trying to yell over the noise of the firetruck, the siren, the air horn, now you have a clear conversation.”

Quinn said he hopes to take delivery of the units by May or early June.


Doug Harlow — 612-2367


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