1. #1
    Dick Dempsey
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Post Fire Dept. Alerting

    Our county is Looking into going to a new alerting system for our Vol. Fire and Ems departments. We are looking at either using the minitor III's or going to an alpha numeric paging system.

    I would like some info on either system. Thanks.

    Our current paging system is done on Low Band (33.78) using four towers in the county. The fire and ems people use various type alerting devices, motorola, shimwa, etc. Which ever system we go to will be in highband 150 range. If we go to the alpha numeric we are going to put in our own infra-structure so that we do not have to depend on a private paging company.

    To address Bob's concerns about hearing whats going on, our county has gone to an 800 radio system. All officers in the county have portable radios that they can monitor whats going on as they respond to the scene or to the fire station. The 800 is digital so at this time it is not possible for anyone else to listen to it. Some of the departments are repeating some of the talk groups on their own highband systems.
    [This message has been edited by Dick Dempsey (edited September 08, 1999).]

    Now that everyone has expressed their feelings on the two systems, here is what the committee has come up with as pro's and con's for each system.

    Minitor III
    1. Has voice, so everyone can hear the dispatch. People will not hear anything after the dispatch because all operations are done on a different frequency.

    2. You can now have up to 6 different alerts in the pager.
    some departments have fire tones, ambulance tones, officer tones, fire police tones and crew call tones.

    3. Equipment we are familier with.

    1. This type paging seems to be outdated and may not even be supported in the future.

    2. Limited alerts. Only 6.

    3. Motorola seems to be the only game in town. Our committee does not like the idea of being tied to one vendor.

    Alpha Numeric
    1. Almost unlimted paging capibilites. You as the user are able to set up different paging groups. One person can be included in many different paging groups.

    2. Cost of the pagers themselves.

    3. All responding personal would have the location and nature of the alarm. Dispatchers would no longer have to tell numerous people where and what it is just because they did not take the time to listen to the dispatch. This would free up the dispatchers to do other things and also free up air time.

    4. Each department would be given the capibility to page from thier station and set up thier own group pages.

    1. No voice message.

    2. We have not found a device that we think is loud enough to wake a sleeping person up.

    The cost to set up either system is going to be about the same. A little more because we will have to buy the software to do the paging with. We are going to try and use existing towers in the county.

    For Bob and iwood51, our county has been using the 800 radio system for about a year. There have been certain areas where we have had problems with coverage howerver overall we are pleased with the system. Motorola is correcting the coverage problems right now.

    We have to go to something new because our low band system is just about shot. I thank you for your questions and comments.
    [This message has been edited by Dick Dempsey (edited September 08, 1999).]

    [This message has been edited by Dick Dempsey (edited September 08, 1999).]

  2. #2
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Minitor III is a total waste of money. They are garbage. There are several forums on these pagers teling why they are so unreliable. Alphanumeric is a great alternative though. It does have a time delay factor compared to radio paging.

  3. #3
    Jim M.
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Sure wish E33 would stop beating around the bush and say what he means!

    Seriously, while the Motorola Corp apparently has some serious problems with the Minitor 3's, they (the company) have been the industry standard for years. The alpha numerics I have seen don't have the volume or the reliability. And the time delay issue is a real show stopper. We looked at Shinwa but it just can't match Motorola. When the evil empire gets the initial bugs out the 3 will probably be the industry standard again.

    Jim M.

    [This message has been edited by Jim M. (edited September 07, 1999).]

  4. #4
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I have a Minitor III and it is not nearly as good a pager as the Minitor II was. The reception is poor and it will not stay open after the alert is activated. I had considered Motorola the leader of the communications industry for over thirty years, not now. They should not have put the Minitor III on the market until it was de-bugged. I sent an e-mail note to Motorola about the problems. Quess what? They did not reply. I hope that they will get it fixed, but their reputation has been hurt in my opinion. I will buy nothing from Motorola
    until our problems are corrected.

  5. #5
    Bob Snyder
    Firehouse.com Guest


    For what it's worth, our three chiefs have had Minitor IIIs for almost nine months. They have had no problems with them. If anything, their reception has been better than some of our older Minitor IIs. I don't know if it matters, but we're on high band VHF (154.31 Mhz).

    As far as alpha-numeric systems go, maybe someone can enlighten me...how do they meet the needs of the volunteer service? If I can't monitor the frequency, how would I know what's going on nearby and how would I get a jump on assist calls, when appropriate? If I'm responding to the initial page in my personal vehicle, would I have a way to track the incident so that I have some way of being prepared for what's going on immediately upon arrival? For that matter, how would I know that the initial report was "nothing showing" so that I can kill the lights & just cruise in to the station rather than responding emergency speed? Would the dispatch center keep sending alpha-numeric status updates? At any point along the way, how would I know if all apparatus has responded yet (determining whether I should be headed for the station or the scene)?

    It seems to me that an alpha-numeric system would certainly slow response times, well beyond just the delay in transmission, and I can't think of a single advantage, let alone one that might offset this major disadvantage.

  6. #6
    Firehouse.com Guest


    In response to Bob Snyder's statements

    >For what it's worth, our three chiefs have >had Minitor IIIs for almost nine months. >They have had no problems with them. If >anything, their reception has been better >than some of our older Minitor IIs.

    You're obviously the exception to the rule judging by the other posts regarding these pagers, I'm glad that I still have my trusty minitor II

    >I don't know if it matters, but we're on >high band VHF (154.31 Mhz).

    I'm not qualified to answer that (we operate on 46.46)

    >As far as alpha-numeric systems go, maybe >someone can enlighten me...how do they meet >the needs of the volunteer service?

    Very well as far as I know, I have a friend in the Roslyn, NY fire department who have all their calls dual-dispatched via alpha numeric pagers and plectrons.

    >If I can't monitor the frequency, how would >I know what's going on nearby and how would >I get a jump on assist calls, when >appropriate? If I'm responding to the >initial page in my personal vehicle, would >I have a way to track the incident so that >I have some way of being prepared for >what's going on immediately upon arrival?

    Er, buy a scanner ?

    >For that matter, how would I know that the >initial report was "nothing showing" so >that I can kill the lights & just cruise in >to the station rather than responding >emergency speed?

    You should always be responding within the speed limit.

    >Would the dispatch center keep sending >alpha-numeric status updates?

    No, they are only used for initial activation.

    >At any point along the way, how would I >know if all apparatus has responded yet

    With your brand new scanner.

    >determining whether I should be headed for >the station or the scene)?

    Got me there, only our chiefs, and occasionally captains, respond to the scene

    >It seems to me that an alpha-numeric system >would certainly slow response times, well >beyond just the delay in transmission

    How ?

    >and I can't think of a single advantage, >let alone one that might offset this major >disadvantage.

    1. They have a much wider range.
    2. They aren't affected by fluorescent lights and the such that prevent you from receiving calls when you're in the middle of Wal-Mart.
    3. You don't have to perform human maneuvers that wouldn't even be legal in the game of twister, in order to get your pager in the one geometrically correct postion in order to get a somewhat clear reception.
    4. There is no mistake in the nature or location of the call, therefore, increased response time in that the driver doesn't have to reconfirm the dispatch address when he gets to the station.
    5. The officer has correct location and timeout for paperwork.

    Good thing I'm a seasoned firefighter, as I feel that I'm going to get "flamed" on this , however, I hope that Bob et al, can see some of the advantages of alpha numeric pagers for alarm activation.

    Let's all get home safe.

    [This message has been edited by iwood51 (edited September 08, 1999).]

  7. #7
    Bob Snyder
    Firehouse.com Guest


    First off, iwood, I'm not going to flame you, I just don't buy into the idea that newer is always better. I'll acknowledge that some departments will find an advantage to purely alpha-numeric systems, but I'll bet a lot will be installed just because they are "the newest thing."

    So let's get this scenario of building the alpha-numeric system as it's described straight...

    First off, we're going to spend millions upon millions of dollars to put in a system for which the primary equipment needs to be augmented with off-the shelf scanner technology or a hand unit to be truly effective in all situations. So now I have to either carry my hand unit everywhere, put a scanner in every vehicle I drive, or carry a pocket scanner (boy, takes me back 15 years to when I was a Junior). That situation isn't going to win any awards for performance-adjusted cost-effectiveness. Besides, I like carrying just a voice pager. It's simple, versatile, and cost-effective.

    Second, it solves reception problems I don't have now...and third, it also gives me range I don't need, since, at the speed limit (or well above it), the fringes of our current repeater range put me too far away from my coverage area to do any good for anything but overhaul. Boy, I'm glad we solved those two problems. An aside: I think that a lot of your trouble comes from being on low band VHF, which probably wasn't your choice to begin with.

    As for Minitor III problems, every complaint I have personally heard tracks back to the low-band version. Apparently, they aren't very good. As far as missing the dispatch, you should be paying attention. As far as going to the scene or not, what should our SOGs say...if all apparatus has already left the station before you get there, just go home? As far as the speed limit goes, I'll give you that one (although it doesn't apply to chief officers).

    So, how do I get the delay? Well, suppose that we're in an environment where everybody responds from wherever they are when their pager goes off. For those who happen to be close to the station when dispatched, the alpha-numeric vs voice issue is probably irrelevant. For those farther away, we now have a problem if we don't have a scanner in our vehicle all the time. If we don't know whether the apparatus are all on the road, we should go to the station. Of course, if they are all on the road, the only place we'll do any good is on the scene (we'll assume that we don't need guards at the station). If we go to the station when all the apparatus are gone, we extend our travel time to the scene. So, in my simple example we have some people getting there just as fast, and some having to make an extra trip (or needing extra hardware...I bet Uniden stock goes up every time somebody installs an alpha-numeric system). Net effect: average response time per person is longer. Pretty simple.

    Thinking about it a little more, I bet that an alpha-numeric system works well where stations are staffed with duty crews and people coming in via pager are staffing standby or next-due apparatus or stations. There are undoubtedly more examples.

    Dick's point about departments augmenting the 800 Mhz system with high band only reinfoirces some of my general reservations. Why invest in a technology that needs to be augmented by the older technolgy that it is meant to replace? I can think of a few examples right now where exactly this type of thing has become permanent because nobody really stood back and evaluated the functionality of the system before they bought it.

    My point in bringing all of this up is that the fire service, especially the volunteer fire service, is gadget-obsessed, and an awful lot of us tend to jump on things that are new and shiny just because they are new and shiny. There are serious questions to be answered about a system like this in the environments we are talking about. These questions aren't necessarily simple and they won't be responsibly answered by glip crap like "buy a scanner." Dick has the right idea in asking the questions, and I don't have many of the answers he needs. I just want to point out that a lot more need to be asked every time someone considers something like this.

    [This message has been edited by Bob Snyder (edited September 08, 1999).]

  8. #8
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Sorry Bob, maybe my "tone" (appropo for an alerting discussion?) was a little off, it is very difficult to convey emotion via the written word, and perhaps my judgement is a little clouded because of the current status of my County's dispatch center, the friend I referred to with the alphanumeric pager alerting system is in a neighboring County.
    You are 100% correct about my reception issue being at least partly to do with the low-band frequency, and as Ed McMahon would say "you are correct, sir" in regards to my having no say in the matter. My County has waited so long to do anything about upgrading their system, that they have been told that there are no longer enough 800 mhz channels available to use. Would you believe that they still use vacuum tubes in their transmitter's ? (I kid you not) There are many instances that the pager will go off and there will be no voice transmission whatsoever, causing the OIC to have to telephone for a reactivation. When this happens too frequently, they have to send someone out to "adjust the tubes". Also, all their records are paper, if we didn't keep our own, we would not be able to report our alarm figures to Albany.
    I still stand by my statements as far as the advantages of alpha paging as the initial alerting method (daytime only of course), however, I would never want to be out of the loop when monitoring the alarm en-route to the station and/or at the scene (There is a lot of communication done by cell-phone these days at the scene, which leaves most in the dark until informed by the OIC)

    I could go on forever about the inefficiencies of my County, however, that is not what Dick was asking for. He was asking about the pro's and con's of using an
    alpha-numeric paging system or an 800 mhz system, I am offering some pro's to alpha-numeric paging, you haven't given any con's. I don't have any experience with 800 mhz systems, that's why I didn't offer any suggestions.

  9. #9
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Dick, Bob, I just remembered another advantage to the alpha-numeric paging system, there is the ability to tone out messages to an individual member, groups of members, e.g. the Chiefs, all officers, all administrative officers, the drill team, an individual company, the whole department, even the softball team at any given time for any reason (currently our chief has to authorize all non-emergency pager activations).
    I will find out more information on equipment needed, pricing etc. next week and will post here.

    [This message has been edited by iwood51 (edited September 08, 1999).]

  10. #10
    Jim M.
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Many of the points in favor of alpha pagers are excellent. They do let you send out lots of information and target it to a single pager or a group of pagers. Many of the pager rental companies will supply free software for your PC. You key in the info, the PC dials a modem and off you go. However, they are not a viable tool for firefighters who are being dispatched to an emergency call. There is a time delay isue. There is the loss of information from subsequent announcement (E1 on scene reports people trapped, E1 requesting tanker shuttle task force, etc). The previous comment about "gadgets" is right on the mark. Keep it simple. If you're having "radio dispatch problems" replace your radios or your dispatch(er) or both.

    In converting from low band, consider UHF frequencies also. The 450 MH frequency range has openings, the equipment is readily available and it is much more reliable than the old low band stuff. We are in the fianl stage of converting from 33.700. From the few articles I have read about the 800 MH trunked systems, they are primarily oriented to very big cities with very big budgets.

    [This message has been edited by Jim M. (edited September 09, 1999).]

  11. #11
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I will gladly have crow pie (can I have ketchup?) regarding the time-delay issue, I did not realize that is such a major factor. When my friend from Roslyn FD gets back from his honeymoon newxt week, I will ask him about the time delay that they experience, and if it is not an issue, I will find out the equipment and software that they use.
    In regards to my issue with reception, I would gladly welcome anything that would make the situation better, however, there are 109 departments in my County that would have to be converted as well as the County dispatch center, and I just don't see that happening in the near future. The ideal solution would be for my department to have their own 24 X 7 dispatchers and to reactivate the alarm immediately after the county dispatch on a high band frequency. I think that our alarm total justifies the expense (1998 - 507 fire 1191 ems). There are other departments with paid dispatchers that run less calls than that, howvever, some of the members of our Board of fire Commissioners (they're the ones that hold the purse strings) still think that this is the 1950's (when they were active). Our budget is 1.5 million per year, and that could easily be bumped up to accomodate dispatchers. my suggestion was to use only part-timers (max 20 hrs/week) so that benefits would not have to be offered, we have some of our guys that would jump at a few 4-6 hour shifts. Oh well, enough rambling.

  12. #12
    Firehouse.com Guest



    I carry an alphanumeric pager for calls. I am a dispatcher for the county as well. The pager I carry generally has a 1-2 minute time delay. This is definitely an issue which needs to be addressed. The pager will only transmit what is on the CAD screen. It will not deliver a decipherable message if you are in certain buildings either. Lets say that I was sent to a brush fire and the page would say (exactly as mine would) "FD33.BRUSH (FIELD FIRE) 123 FARMERSVILLE RD / NEAR THE DEAD END (22) CALLER STATES FIELD IS ON FIRE BEHIND THE RESIDENCE” This message is translated as:
    1. Unit being paged (FD33)
    2. CAD code for call type (BRUSH) code=704
    3. Geoprossessed address (123 FARMERSVILLE RD)
    4. Landmark or cross St. which is typed by dispatcher (NEAR THE DEAD END)
    5. Municipality code (22)

    Now based on this we can assume it is probably a legit fire. The field truck gets there and calls the tanker task force because its a big fire and there is a barn involved now..the page to station 46 (one of the mutual aid tankers) would be: FD46. BRUSH (FIELD FIRE) 123 FARMERSVILLE RD / NEAR THE DEAD END (22) / CALLER STATES THE FIELD IS ON FIRE BEHIND THE RESIDENCE. ??But isn’t it a building fire now too?? This is one of the major problems we are having. There is no county policy, which provides a way for updated info to be transmitted to next due companies or if the scale of the incident changes to something different, like this one.

    There is currently no way to page an individual or group from this system. It is nice to have as a supplememtal system due to the fact that is is discreet and compact as well as allowing you to have more than one station on one pager...regardless of what radio band they operate on. I still carry my radio pagers alot of the time.

    [This message has been edited by e33 (edited September 09, 1999).]

    [This message has been edited by e33 (edited September 10, 1999).]

  13. #13
    Bob Snyder
    Firehouse.com Guest


    E33, thanks for your post!! These are exactly the kinds of problems I (and others I have talked to about this issue) expected to see with systems like these. I don't doubt that they can be overcome eventually (I suspect that the radio/voice paging systems most of us have now went through similar growing pains back in the '60s and '70s), but I don't want to be the one standing over a smoldering foundation without timely mutual aid because I was on the "cutting edge" of communications technology.

    I should probably apologize for my demeanor on this thread, since this is a touchy issue for me right now...word on the street is that our county communications center is "investigating" a 700 Mhz, alpha-numeric system to replace our current (perfectly good) radio/voice paging system. My general opinion of our county-level "investigations" is somewhere between "low" and some other things I can't say here. I really appreciate the ammunition I can get from people who have problems with these systems in their present form, even though the fight, in the end, will probably be futile.

  14. #14
    Firehouse.com Guest


    This will be my final post on this topic (I promise Bob!) After I spoke with Frank, my friend from Roslyn FD, I have found out the following:
    1. They use Pro-Net pagers.
    2. There is a time delay (I never said there wasn't), but never more than 45 secs.
    3. They are dual-dispatched, one dispatcher tones out their Minitor II's while another dispatcher enters the info into the computer.
    4. They very much like having the alpha pagers for the reasons I had stated above.

    An expensive overhead, but they are required to have two forms of activation, I don't know if we all are, whether the second form of activation is the firehouse siren, or a phone chain. Their town asked that the firehouse sirens be removed.

  15. #15
    Bob Snyder
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Sorry Ian, I'm going to keep this going just a little longer.... First off, I think that, if you have the budget for that kind of redundant system, this dual voice/alphanumeric system sound like the way to go. I can see why people like it, and I'm all for the fail-safe intent of the dual alerting system. I guess I just never envisioned actually having that budget and, in reality, probably never will get to see that budget in my lifetime (unless I just pack up and leave the county). From where I sit, the choice is: "pick one stand-alone system."

    So, I'm asking you, and anybody else: If you only get EITHER voice OR alphanumeric, but NOT BOTH under any forseeable circumstances, which do you pick?? I'd like some opinions, since I expect that my county will face this decision sometime in the next few years. If left alone, I expect them to choose incorrectly.

  16. #16
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Bob, if I had to choose, I would absolutely go with the voice. How would an alpha alert you at night? I too am in a predicament as far as what my county will do. As I've said before, there aren't enough 800 mhz frequencies left in my area, they should have been thinking about this years ago. Someone mentioned the 450 mhz frequecies, this is what FDNY runs on, I don't know if there's a conflict there or not. As far as supplementing the voice system, I have requested in the past, but to no avail, that a system as simplistic as faxing the run card to all three of our stations, so that there is a least a written time-out, location, caller phone, etc. available.
    I don't see this in my foreseeable future either, so I guess I'm just stuck with my Minitor II (someone said Motorola doesn't make lowband Minitor III's <phew>).

  17. #17
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Hey guys, this has been a good topic! I've learned a lot from your discussion. Glad that you put your postings on the board instead of e-mailing to each other, so that the rest of us could learn also. We use voice paging in our county, it is hi-band(154.00) and works well. I think we probably have every kind of pager ever made! Another county has switched to alpha-numeric, but it's so new I haven't heard how it is working for them.

  18. #18
    Jim M.
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Bob, if you have to make one choice, as most of us do, I'd strongly recommend using radio dispatch. It's cheap - anyone can pick up a scanner for under $100. today, if pagers are impractical or too expensive. It's reliable - the basic technology has been around for 50 years or more. There are multiple backups - given that your dispatch center burns up, step out to a truck radio and start talking. It has a lot of bells and whistles available (more channels, PL tones for privacy, trunking) if you have the need and the money. The alpha pagers seem like a nice addition but for my 2 cents they won't replace the basic function of real-time radio communications.

  19. #19
    Firehouse.com Guest


    All this talk back and forth has me thinking about something else, paid dispatchers vs. volunteers taking the radio, however, I will open a new thread for that.

  20. #20
    Firehouse.com Guest


    This has been very educational. I am a 911 Fire Dispatcher which has the luxury of voice and alphanumeric alerting. The voice alerting coverage is so so and the alpha coverage is great. It is at the most a 45 second delay on recieving the page and that is through a commerical paging company. For example if we were sent to a building fire the page would read: CT: BF 1234 MAIN ST APT 7 HAMP BOX: 0208 DUE: E22 E44 BE432 T2 S4. Translated that means Ct is call type, BF is Building Fire then the address w/ apartment number and town, fire box area, and all equipment that is due on the assignment. Then entire message is automatically sent through CAD and requires no additonal work by the dispatchers. The volunteers in the county love having both - even complain when they don't recieve the alpah page (it does happen every now and again). But nothing beats voice for the 3 am call to wake you up or driving down the road and having to reach you alpha because it is vibrating and you are wondering if it is an emergency call or the wife wanting you to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home.

  21. #21
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Hi Guys:
    Hope I'm not re-hashing anything said already, but the key with going to commercial service alpha-numerics is to find a good technical contact in that company you can work with!
    -- Get a dedicated connection to their terminal. Same thing as the phone lines running out to your radio towers, or phone lines used for dedicated alarm circuits.
    -- CAP CODES! CAP CODES! Alpha pagers can have multiple cap codes. Of course, each has an individual code. You can also have a common group CAP code so all the pagers in the department go off simultaneously.
    -- Get priority on your pages so they go to the top of the queue.
    -- Let's see...pager companies pay big $$$ for tower sites...fire department has tower sites...probably some leverage to work with them on a you scratch my back, I'll scratch your back to get the prioritization, group caps codes, and direct access setup.

    Don't go with a proprietary system. We've just placed 20 alphas in service on a trial basis, with coverage throughout Southern New England. Am I gonna respond from work 50 miles home? Nope...but would be nice to get the page training was moved up from 7:30 to 7:00 before I show up half an hour late. In this day and age, we have several members who works 60 miles west of our station, and one who daily commutes 80 miles north.

    And for the most controversial statement...the debate between voice pagers and alphanumerics is dead before it begins. Twenty years from now Voice pagers will play as important role in the fire service as Sirens & Horns do today -- not much of one. The Alphas have way too many advantages. Now if someone just comes up with an amplified night stand for one of them


  22. #22
    Bob Snyder
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Thanks for all your input. Also, my aplologies to Dick for my "hostile takeover" of his thread.

    At the same time, I'm excited about the idea of alpha-numerics as a supplement to voice, and I'm scared to death that the county will just replace voice with alpha-numeric without giving it the proper thought, testing, etc. As with decisions made by most governing bodies, I expect this decision to ultimately be based on how the elected officials can enhance their personal wealth, rather than on how the system serves the public. But this crap goes on everywhere...

  23. #23
    Kelly Tool
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I agree with Matt, unless they make an alpanumeric that'll wake me up in the middle of the night I'll stick with the Motorola voice pagers.

    Put the wet stuff on the red stuff!

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