Speak Up: Interoperability Beyond the Fireground

Each October, nearly 5,000 people from across the nation descend on Emmitsburg, MD, to honor and respect the fallen heroes of the previous year during the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. The event, which this year will be held Oct. 11 and 12, takes nearly a year of planning, and encompasses fire and rescue personnel from virtually every state to make the event the solemn memorial our fallen brothers and sisters deserve.

For over 10 years, the primary communications for the weekend has been provided by the 800-MHz trunked radio system of Frederick County, MD. A combination of trunked talk groups and conventional frequencies has been used to provide communications between the family hotels in Frederick and the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg. As both of these locations are within Frederick County, communications were relatively seamless.

As this event attracts hundreds of volunteers from fire departments throughout the country, simple and task-specific nomenclatures are used to identify the channels. Motorola Solutions provides 200 radios for use by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to be used during the weekend. The radios are programmed by the Frederick County radio service shop, Hankey’s Radio, when they are received for distribution. As the radios are not programmed, the naming convention used for each talk group or frequency can be specialized just for the event.

Rather than use the Frederick County talk group naming, we developed nomenclatures customized just for the radios used by NFFF weekend staff members. Additionally, as the Frederick County system recently upgraded to a P25 digital system with additional available frequencies, we have developed specific individual talk groups just for the Memorial Weekend.

When programming the loaner Motorola radios, instead of seeing the actual talk group designation of NFFF-1 in the display of the radio, the NFFF volunteer staff member may see LOGISTICS or FAMILY REGISTRATION. Each display of a talk group or frequency is named for the sector, work group or purpose of use. COMMAND, LOGISTICS, SECURITY, FOOD SERVICE, PRODUCTION and other typical work groups are specifically identified in the radios, helping to eliminate confusion and truly provide a “plain speak” solution for the many fire departments represented in the workforce of the weekend.

The National Fallen Fighters Memorial Weekend encompasses two states and a radius of nearly 80 miles. Regional communications have always been a challenge. In 2012, the host hotel for the families of the fallen heroes moved to Gettysburg, PA. This move was done to improve efficiency of the weekend from the aspect of less movement of the families by bus to various venues. However, the move provided additional communications challenges as the critical operations of family hotels and registration moved into fringe area of the new Frederick County 800-MHz P25 digital radio system that went live just the week before the Memorial Weekend.

To meet the new challenges, in 2013, an interoperability plan that encompassed three different radio systems in two states with three variations of operational components was developed. With the hard work and creativity of Mike Corcoran of Capitol Radio in Harrisburg working with the Adams County, PA, system, John Schindler of Hankey’s Radio, working with the Frederick County MD system, Dave Wise of DCS Consulting Services representing the CMARC (Central Maryland Area Radio Communications Committee) and Nick Stanziola, an engineer for Motorola Solutions, and cooperation of John Eline, Adams County emergency services director and Mary Bowers, Adams County PA 911 coordinator, a unique and very effective interoperability solution was developed. This interoperability solution was based on an idea that combined systems could not only provide communications from Frederick to Gettysburg, but could also be expanded to provide radio communications to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) outside Baltimore, the primary airport for arriving families and visitors.

This concept had many unanswered questions. Could “patching” an 800 conventional system to an 800-MHz trunked P25 Phase I digital system to a 700-MHz trunked P25 Phase II system work? Would latency, decreased volume or other incompatibility issues surface and negate interoperability between systems? Though on paper this idea had merit, it was not until 11:30 A.M. on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, just 30 minutes before the first formal weekend operations began, did all parties confirm the interoperability solution was a success.

The Transportation Section in Gettysburg could track families as they left BWI. Command in Emmitsburg could talk directly with the family hotel in Gettysburg. As the federal sequester closed the National Fire Academy, communications could have easily been established with the Howard County Fire & Rescue Training Academy, temporary home to many of the volunteer staff.

The thousands of hours donated by hundreds of men and women of our nation’s fire and rescue service to honor our fallen heroes is a reflection of commitment, dedication and compassion of our fire service family. Each year, the generosity and support of Motorola Solutions ensures communications for the weekend event. The cooperation of Adams County, Frederick County and the Central Maryland Area Radio Communications Committee and the creative engineering of Mike Corcoran of Capitol Radio, John Schindler of Hankey’s Radio, Nick Stanziola of Motorola Solutions and Dave Wise of DCS Consulting provided a unique interoperability solution to help ensure the success of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.

Clarence E. “Chip” Jewell


Frederick County Department of Emergency Communications

Division of Emergency Management

Frederick, MD

The writer serves as the Communications Leader (COM L) for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend. He has served on the support staff of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend for 15 years. Jewell has been active in the fire service of Frederick County for 45 years and is a life member of Junior Fire Company No. 2 and life member and captain of the Libertytown Volunteer Fire Department. He was appointed by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to serve on the State Interoperability Executive Committee and also serves on the SIEC Practitioner’s Steering Committee. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and is a Level III fire service instructor and a field instructor for the Maryland Fire/Rescue Institute (MFRI). Jewell is has been inducted in both the Frederick County Fire/Rescue and Maryland State Firemen’s Association Hall of Fame.


New NIOSH program aids first responders

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) would like to introduce the U.S. National Response Team (NRT) Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS) system. We are sending this to you because we know you share our interest in emergency preparedness and in providing the best possible public health response during and after emergencies. The ERHMS system provides guidelines for protecting emergency responders involved in various types of emergencies and settings and can be used by anyone involved with the deployment and protection of emergency workers.

Free training courses that are now available online. ERHMS training courses include the following:

Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS) System

• Provides the necessary tools for implementing health monitoring and surveillance of emergency response workers

• Outlines important procedures for pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment

• Offers continuing education credits for those who complete the course. Credits include: CEU/CE; CHES; CME; CNE Contact Hours; Pharmacist Contact Hours; and AAVSB/RACE

• All emergency response coordinators are encouraged to take this course

Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS) System: Leadership Training

• Introduces the ERHMS system to leaders in organizations responsible for planning and executing incident response activities

• Optimizes the health and safety of response, remediation, recovery and volunteer workers

• The intended audience includes local, regional, state, tribal, and federal personnel who are responsible for the occupational safety and health of responders

• Offers 0.1 continuing education units for completing the course

We hope that you find this information useful, and we encourage you to visit the ERHMS website at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/erhms/.

Please pass this information on to others you know aiding in emergency preparedness and response.

Thank you for your service.

Michelle R. Martin

Public Health Advisor

Field Studies Branch

Division of Respiratory Disease Studies


Morgantown, WV


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