Understanding Firefighter Jargon
Have you ever listened to the Live Feed dispatch or followed one of the Fire Company Facebook pages to come across firefighter words you didn’t understand? Perhaps the voices on the dispatch referred to something on the Alpha side. What are they talking about? Let’s unravel the jargon first responders frequently use.
The reason first responders have their own language is because as they work emergency scenes it becomes necessary to understand communication quickly and accurately. These codes and words are developed and added to training within a department, county, or region so all responders in the same area have the same understanding. This is especially important when working mutual aid calls when many fire stations are working together to fight a fire or render aid.
Using the agreed upon language cuts down on confusion and expedites responses when a command is given. In some parts of the country firefighter jargon may vary but be assured that regional responders are using a common form of the terms so they work together seamlessly during a crisis.
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta
When you hear the words Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta these refer to the sides of a building. Alpha side is the primary staging side and generally the address side of the building. If viewing the building from the street and the address can be seen from the street, this will be Alpha. Going clockwise around the building will follow Bravo (left side), Charlie (back), and Delta (right side).
A Handful of Frequently Used Words and Their Meanings
Transfer: When a station is out handling various calls, another station may get a request to transfer an engine or truck to their station to add fire coverage for any new calls which may come in.
Staging: This is a location at the scene where the responders will report to get their assignments for the call. Staging could additionally be a holding location. If there is limited space to bring apparatus closer, they will hold in a designated location until needed.
LZ: This often refers to a helicopter landing zone. A fire apparatus will remain on standout and establish a safe landing zone as well as serve as a focal point for an approaching or departing helicopter called to a scene.
PIC or MVC: PIC is short for a personal injury collision and MVC is abbreviated to mean motor vehicle collision.
More definitions can be found here. These may vary to what’s being used locally but will often be close enough to help you understand what the responders are discussing.
What do the codes mean?
One of the most frequently asked questions on some of the Facebook posts is around what a particular code means. The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) states when assigning a clinical priority rating these are used:
- Priority 1 — Critically ill or injured person requiring immediate attention; unstable patients with potentially life-threatening injury or illness.
- Priority 2 — Less serious condition, requiring emergency medical attention but not immediately endangering the patient’s life.
- Priority 3 — Non-emergent condition, requiring medical attention but not on an emergency basis.
- Priority 4 — Does not require medical attention.
Is there a difference between a fire truck and a fire engine?
Yes. You may hear someone call the same apparatus a fire truck or fire engine but the truth is each refers to a different type of vehicle. A fire engine, or pumper, is a fire suppression vehicle which has a water pump and, typically, is designed to carry firehose and a limited supply of water. A fire truck is an auxiliary vehicle which carries tools such as ground and aerial ladders. Our Quint 27 is an aerial ladder truck which uses a hydraulically operated ladder.
We welcome your questions. If you’ve heard a term that wasn’t familiar or want to know more about fire safety, let us know.