1. #1
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    Default Who is buying your radio equipment?

    I was wondering if career fire departments can decide what kind of radio equipment they want to purchase or if it is the county that decides for them. I often see fire departments being forced purchasing an 800Mhz system but very often they seem to keep the VHF frequency for their dispatch (especially the pagers). Who makes the decisions at a career FD? The fire chief or the county?

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    Quote Originally Posted by koechler View Post
    Who makes the decisions at a career FD? The fire chief or the county?
    The answer to this question is going to vary wildly. In some parts of the country, counties are powerful political entities; in others they're just lines on a map. This sort of organizational issue is going to be different state by state; county by county; and sometimes department by department.
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    All of the above.

    In our haste to pursue the latest greatest radio systems, some of the important details were not mentioned in the trade off. UFH is not condusive to urban structures unless you have multiple sites. UFH requires a lot more power to cover the same ground as VHF. Refarming and narrow banding has created more issues than solved. The cost of equipment is much higher for digital equipment than the analog counterparts.

    Where we could buy analog mobiles and handhelds for the entire fleet and roster for about $250,000 ten years ago... Digital equipment to cover the same runs about $3 million. Seems like a good trade off to me if you want to waste a lot of tax payer money and get less than desired results.

    Changing the communication system should not be taken lightly. I am a firm believer in not trying to fix what isn't broken. Unfortunately, my idea of what is broken or not has not always lined up with what the FCC or my Boss thinks.

    A few years ago, our jurisdiction hired a consulting company to begin the change over to digital. I did everything possible to stall it. It was decided by the consultant what we needed. He had no fire ground experience, but he thought he was an expert on how we do our jobs and what our requirements should be. Since he was paid by the city, the bosses bought into the belief he understood perfectly our needs. So it was crammed down our throat. The PD also was resistant to the change. Both agencies (FD & PD) employed VHF HI repeaters and had already moved to narrow band compliance. Since the FD served a larger area it also was serviced by a second repeater for the out of town calls. We shared it with our MA partners to help solve their com issues. We also provided dispatch. Not a bad deal.

    I am no longer there... but this wasn't the reason. I was on contract to do specific things that we completed, and I was not enlisted for my advice on communications. I tried to make it my business, but to no avail. I kind of like to leave a place better off than when I arrived. This one is hard to judge because of this issue however.

    Today, they have a disaster. No out of town coverage. Dropped signals in structures. At least 2 near fatal maydays that were tagged to the communication issue. Dropped signals at the Stations and on trucks, which has lead to increased reponse times. It is pretty bad when the dispatcher has to call a Station Captain to find out if they received the tones. The PD is in about the same shape. Not to mention, cost overuns and equipment that was not compatible in the dispatch center. Law suit is coming? Not my job to decide.

    The firefighters have already attempted to gain guarantees in their contract that they may return to the old system. The guy that followed me calls me from time to time just to vent. I understand his pain. It wasn't broke... but an expert told us it was...

    The bosses still don't understand the complete issue, but at least two of them no longer have the need to be concerned about it. They lost their seats last month. I hope their replacements finally get it.

    If you are about to go down this road... be sure to protect your position and don't give up anything that you currently have.

    Don't get me wrong on this... I am not against improvements in technology and science. I am against someone telling me that I don't understand what I need.

    I don't think we have arrived at a safe level just yet for digital to work in every situation.
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    Quote Originally Posted by koechler View Post
    I was wondering if career fire departments can decide what kind of radio equipment they want to purchase or if it is the county that decides for them................. Who makes the decisions at a career FD? The fire chief or the county?
    In my county, I haven't heard or seen of anything that dictated what radio equipment any of the FDs purchased, other than the obvious need to get ones that are for the band (VHF, UHF, etc.) they will be operating on.

    My department previously purchased whatever radio equipment we wanted, basically what ever was "cheap". About 18 months ago we switched from one of several "private" channels in the County to a common channel for our "zone" within the County. We moved from VHF-High to UHF. The decision to make the change was essentially ours to make, however the County Dispatch was pushing for changes to the overall system. In our zone, they had multiple dispatch channels on VHF-Low, VHF-High & UHF to monitor and routinely dispatched on more than one for an incident with multiple companies.

    We made the change for several reasons:
    1) Our old system was non-repeated and unit to unit communications from one side of our small city to the other was poor. If we stayed with it, then there would be costs involved with getting a repeater and maintaining the system. Using the County's new UHF system eliminated all of those issues for us.
    2) None of our neighbors that we worked with operated on VHF-High. Using the County's UHF system brought interoperability with them.
    3) We only had 1 channel to use. The new system provided additional channels with the promise of more in the future (which just happened recently).
    4) This one was the most important, the County was going to provide us all of the equipment we needed to make the switch. They had obtained a Homeland Security grant of some sorts to purchase radios and pagers for the departments in the zone so they could make the switch.

    So, in our case, we made the choice to move to the new system. If we'd done it sooner, we could've bought whatever we wanted to. Since we did when/how we did it, the County decided what radios and pagers to purchase (bulk order pricing). We've since purchased a few more radios on our own, but they were used radios and not the same model as the ones we received from the County.

    I often see fire departments being forced purchasing an 800Mhz system but very often they seem to keep the VHF frequency for their dispatch (especially the pagers).
    One possible reason for this is that the 800 band does not have paging capabilities. So what I've frequently seen is the departments operate on the 800 band for 2-way communications and the dispatching is done on VHF or UHF. Simulcasting the main 800 channel and the dispatch channel on the other band is common in these situations.

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    Each department in the county buys their own radio's. Each department also has to provide two radios to the dispatch center (main and back up).

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    Where I volunteer, the county purchases, installs, and maintains all radio equipment. When we (the public safety users) decided in the late 1990's to finally get off VHF-Low, we did a pretty exhaustive study to determine if VHF, UHF, or 800MHz would be best for our application. Based on cost, interoperability, and compatibility with the equipment we owned at the time, we made the determination that VHF would be best for our needs.

    Keep in mind that many places (career and volunteer) operate on a county-wide basis, whereas no matter how many separate VFD's within a county, they're all dispatched from the same PSAP on the same channel. None of this figuring out which radio to use depending on who's first-due you're running into.

    Now, as for the 800MHz questions. We're on a regional 800MHz digital trunked radio system at work. The radio system is used by three counties and one city, who served a combined total of over 1,200,000 people. When the system was purchased and installed 15 years ago, it carried a price tag of $32M. The system is adequate, but I don't jump up and down with excitement over it. With over 8000 radios on the system, it can get loaded up with traffic sometimes, but it's not all that often since there are a total of 70 trunking freq's assigned to it.

    Two answer the question if we were "forced" to use it, I guess you could say yes. However, when the system was being designed, there were a lot of public safety officials that were part of the committee, so we could get what would be most effective for each of the localities involved. It wasn't as though the county just said, "here's your new radio system, enjoy!"
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    Our county is all on an 800 mhz system. The state is implementing a state-wide 800 mhz system so that the rural volunteer depts that still run 100 mhz radios can communication with everyone else during a time of need.

    As for the make and features of the radio, our city's communications dept tested and made recommendations to a committee of fire and police personnel from our city and another that we dispatch for. On our radios, we can pick-up pretty much every agency within the county and neighboring counties, the hospitals and a few other channels. If we substantially leave the area (seldom) we go to the statewide radio.

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