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    Question Grants for portable radios

    Hey, folks....looking for some input here....I would like to write our '06 AFG grant for some portable radios...Now, having said that, I'm anticipating problems and would like to know if anyone has successfully dealt with them..to wit:

    Interoperability...that's one of the big buzz words nowadays, especially when applying for grant money. I know only a little bit about the new P25 initiative (meaning that I've heard of it, basically). I understand that they want all our radio equipment to be compatible with the new 700 mHz "public safety" band that's supposed to be coming. Problem is this...I know that you can buy radios that can function on both 700 and 800 mHz bands, but we're not on 800, we're on UHF. I am not aware of any plans to switch to 800 in our area. You CANNOT get a radio that functions as both UHF and 700 mHz. Therefore, we would not be able to use the new P25 compatible radios. (someone with some background in this, please correct me if I got any of this wrong).

    In a nutshell, the "new generation" radios would be useless to us.

    Cost....the new P25 compliant radios are around $2,500 - $3,000 (and would be of no use to us...see above) I can get USEFUL radios for about 1/3 of that price...hence, more guys with radios.

    NFPA compliance....Ideally, every guy on the fireground should have a portable radio. The more radios I am able to afford, the more guys I can equip with a radio (more bang for the buck).

    Has anyone had success getting funding for radios that are not "new generation"? If so, did you have any problems with these issues, and how did you address them? Any and all input is appreciated. Thanks
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

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    I'm no expert on civilian radio (or perhaps military commo for that matter = push to talk), just what I've picked up in becoming marginally informed recently while purchasing some vehicle and handhelds sets.

    Like most rural depts we also use UHF. Unless in a dense net (lots of users) there is no benefit at all of changing to anything else (800mhz or 700mhz or xyz). The other freq have shorter range so you need lots of retrans/repeater stations (expensive and complicated=expensive). Large whats new toy/gimmcrack component. Good for Motorola when they sell $3000 radios vs a $500 Vertex but does NOTHING for a rural FD. Beyond the extravagant expense will likely to have mroe problems and worse capability. Perhaps needed in a BIG metro/city area. Not in most of the nation. Foolish waste of $.

    All new UHF radios you have purchased in recent years are P25 compliant - primary importance is the freq are closer together than older/lower tech radios = more freq/channels available. So your new radio can have 16/32/64 freq/channels vs old radio 2/4/8 channels in the same piece of the electromag spectrum. So whatever radios you buy will comply with P25. More relavant choice is wether you should purchase/how many that are interior attack rated (or perhaps even intrensically safe (a very very low priority need for typical FD).

    As I understand it some in the radio "community" mfg/sales I'm sure have been pushing for ANOTHER "split" of the UHF bandwidth but is not going to be happening any time soon enough that we need to be worrying about it. Perhaps our kids problems. In rural area the are not enough user density that it is needed.

    Hopefully some of the commo gurus will find this thread and provide more info/correct me if I'm incorrect. Where is nmfire?

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    Hi all,

    There is lots of confusion out there about what P25 means, what 700 MHz is, etc. Being a certified radio nerd, I'll try to explain as clearly as I can, but it might be a long post

    P25 is a standard that was developed by APCO for digital radio communication. In the past all of our radios were analog radios and used FM modulation. This meant that as long as you were on the same band as someone else (VHF to VHF, UHF to UHF, etc.) you could talk to them.

    Recent (or not so recent) advances have led to a push towards using digital modulation to gradually replace analog. However, there are about a billion different ways you can send digital information over a radio. People realized that there needed to be a standard format so that everyone could talk to each other, and that standard format became P25.

    Note that P25 specifies the type of encoding and modulation used to send voice over the air, but it does not specify the frequency range to be used. This means that you can use P25 on VHF, UHF, 700MHz, 800MHz, whatever. I say again...P25 can be used on any band.

    The corollary to this is that just because you have two P25 compliant radios it doesn't mean that they can talk to each other. A VHF radio still can't talk to a UHF radio, even if they both use P25 digital (Unless of course you have a crossband "interoperability" link or patch).

    Another important thing to mention is that in order to be P25 compliant, the radio must be capable of operating in both digital and analog modes to ensure backwards compatibility. This means that you can buy a P25 compliant radio but not use the P25 capabilities...you can use it just like your current radios.

    So to cut to the chase, you can buy UHF radios that are P25 compliant, but they're going to cost about 3 times as much as a similar analog-only UHF radio. As I see it, P25 is a double-edged sword for grant purposes. The Feds are pushing P25 big-time, so they'll probably want radios that are P25 compliant even if your jurisdiction (like most) is still analog and doesn't use P25. The problem is that right now the radios are so expensive that it's going to do bad things to your cost/benefit.

    I see a couple of options for departments trying to get grant funding for radios. I don’t know what the “official” opinion is on these options…it’s just what I’ve been thinking:

    Option #1: Get radios that are fully P25 compliant. This will be the most expensive route, and in all likelihood a waste of money if your jurisdiction won't be moving to digital within the lifespan of the radios. If you go this route, I would emphasize that P25 is the national standard, it allows future interoperability, etc.

    Option #2: Get radios that are not P25 compliant. I'm not sure if the Feds will go for this or not. If you go this route, I would emphasize that your jurisdiction has no plans to migrate to P25 digital on your band (UHF) within the lifespan of the radios, and emphasize the cost/benefit of not wasting money on something that won't get used.

    Option #3 (my favorite): Get radios that are not P25 compliant, but are capable of being upgraded (via software or hardware) in the future. There are several vendors (Motorola, Icom, probably others) that have this option. This gives you a decent cost/benefit (radios are more expensive than conventional, but less than P25) but allows you to stress that you can upgrade to P25 when needed.

    Now on to the 700 MHz stuff.

    Currently public safety users across the country operate in several different bands. These include VHF-Low (47MHz), VHF-High (150MHz), UHF(450MHz), and 800 MHz. Even with all of these bands available, there aren't enough open frequencies to go around, especially in urban areas. Overcrowding has been a problem. This has led to the FCC declaring that a big chunk of frequencies in the 700 MHz band will be available to public safety users as soon as television broadcasters vacate those frequencies. The hard date for the TV stations to vacate is 2009, but in some areas there are no stations on those channels and 700 MHz can be used by public safety in those areas already.

    So the 700 MHz spectrum is additional spectrum, but as of now there is no requirement that public safety users migrate to 700 MHz. We can keep using our VHF and UHF frequencies for the foreseeable future (unless of course some state or local jurisdiction forces you to change, but it's not a federal requirement).

    The ideal long-term situation would be that all public safety users are on a single band using the same format (and 700 MHz would be ideal because of the large amount of frequencies available). This would be an advantage because as we all know the radio vendors don't currently make radios that operate on more than one band. If everyone were on the same band it would help (but not solve) a lot of interoperability problems. However, to move everyone from their current VHF and UHF systems to 700 MHz would be an expensive and painful process. It remains to be seen if this will ever happen.

    I predict that most (if not all) new 700 MHz systems being rolled out will be P25 digital. However, on VHF and UHF analog will continue to be used for quite some time.

    Some radio dealers (especially the bigger names) are using all of this confusion to produce a bunch of smoke and mirrors and sell really expensive systems and radios. Other radio dealers (especially the small mom and pop shops selling Japanese radios) are completely clueless and don’t have any idea what’s going on. So the best thing to do is be cautious and do your homework to make sure you’re not getting sold a bill of goods.

    I’ll try to monitor this thread closely, as I might have created more questions than answers. If that’s the case I apologize…feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I hate it when people get ripped off by radio companies due to lack of knowledge...I'd be more than happy to help out in any way I can.

    Regards,

    Andy

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    Thanks for the input, guys (especially Pelican for the crash course in radio terminology!) That clears things up quite a bit. Now that I understand a little better what P25 actually is, I still think it would be a waste of resources (for us, anyway) to worry about it. We are a very rural area and although there are 2 other departments that we share a frequency with, our call volume is sufficiently low that it does not cause a problem. I think the money would be better spent getting more radios in firefighters' hands. My only concern with is it if the state mandates some swap to 700 (I think the State Police is going that route), we would be stuck having to deal with that.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with all the associated interoperability and communication issues, I will not be surprised if the political types are quick to throw federal money at a problem that they don't really understand. It would be very easy, at this point, to sell them a bill of goods about how requiring all state agencies to swap to 700 would solve all the communication problems, etc. This knee-jerk reaction, unfortunately, would cause untold hardships for small local departments who would not benefit from the system but might be forced to migrate to it.

    Mind you, I'm not saying that this will happen....But if I know anything about Louisiana politics....

    I misstated our frequency.....by your description we would be in the VHF-high band (154 mHz range), not UHF as I stated (can you tell I don't know a lot about radios? )
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

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    Quote Originally Posted by dmleblanc
    I think the money would be better spent getting more radios in firefighters' hands. My only concern with is it if the state mandates some swap to 700 (I think the State Police is going that route), we would be stuck having to deal with that.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, with all the associated interoperability and communication issues, I will not be surprised if the political types are quick to throw federal money at a problem that they don't really understand. It would be very easy, at this point, to sell them a bill of goods about how requiring all state agencies to swap to 700 would solve all the communication problems, etc. This knee-jerk reaction, unfortunately, would cause untold hardships for small local departments who would not benefit from the system but might be forced to migrate to it.
    You've identified a number of important issues/problems that we're all going to have to deal with in the upcoming years. The big vendors (Motorola, M/A-Com) have been fairly succesful in selling statewide 700/800MHz systems to a number of states (Michigan, Florida, Illinois, etc.). Whereas in the past each state and local agency built and maintained their own radio system, the paradigm has started to shift towards having a vendor (such as Motorola) build and maintain the system under contract with the state. The end users pay a monthly fee for each radio on the system, much like cellular networks. The problem is that with a cellular network there are hundreds of thousands of users to spread the cost over. With a public safety network there are only a small fraction of the number of users, so the per-user fee is much higher. This makes it prohibitively expensive for small departments to use the system. In Illinois the fee is something like $50 per radio per month to be on the new statewide 700/800 MHz system. I was talking with a Motorola salesmen who was trying to tell me that the new statewide Illinois system is ideal for small volunteer fire departments. It was all I could do to not laugh in his face. Small department's just can't afford those kind of monthly fees.

    What tends to happen is that the large agencies with money (state police, etc.) migrate to the new statewide systems while the smaller agencies that can't afford it (rural volunteer fire departments, etc.) stay on their old systems. That's what's happening here in Illinois. Unless there is legislation backed with significant funding, I think we'll continue to see this disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots".

    The end result is that a statewide system built in the name of "interoperability" actually causes problems with interoperability becuase some agencies are on the new system but some aren't. Unless everyone is on the same band and same system, we will continue to have interoperability problems. These problems can be addressed with temporary or permanent links and patches between systems, but those patches take lots of planning and training to implement properly.

    Another thing to consider is what the system was designed for and whether or not that meets your requirements. For example, the Illinois Starcom system was designed so that a mobile unit would have coverage anywhere in the state, which was the requirement of the state police. Most fire departments want full portable unit coverage for their response area, not mobile coverage. The incident commander wants to be able to talk to his dispatcher from his portable radio. He doesn't want to have to use a mobile truck radio. This can be accomplished through the use of vehicular repeaters and other solutions, but all of these things take a good amount of pre-planning and training. The important thing to keep in mind is that a communications system will only do what it was designed to do. If it wasn't designed for full portable radio coverage, don't expect it to give that.

    I say this because many departments have switched to an 800 MHz system, found that it doesn't meet their needs, and so have switched back to their legacy VHF or UHF system. The problem is that the 800 MHz system was never designed for their needs in the first place, but now whenever they hear "800 MHz" they think "junk". That's unfortunate, because there is nothing inherently bad about any frequency band. It's true that VHF signals carry farther than 800 MHz signals for the same amount of power, but if the system is properly designed it should give you the required coverage regardless of what frequency is being used.

    I would strongly urge fire departments to be actively involved in the planning stages of any new public safety communications system to make sure that it meets your department's needs. It's much easier and cheaper to design a system properly from the beginning rather than fix it once it's in place.

    As for your grant, I think it makes sense to buy radios without P25 if there is no plans to use it. I don't know if the grant evaluators will see it that way. I believe they will be basing their evaluation on the SAFECOM document referenced above, which pushes P25. Maybe someone with more grant experience can shed some light on that. If you do decide to go for radios that aren't P25 compliant, I can see going one of two routes. Either don't mention P25 at all, but stress that the radios will work on your system and be interoperable with surrounding departments, or fully explain the reasons that you're not going to get P25 radios (cost benefit, no plans to use, etc.). I don't know which would be more likely to be successfull. My gut feeling is that they're going to want P25, so that's where buying a radio that is capable of being upgraded might be a good comprimise between P25 and cost/benefit.

    Andy

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    Andy, thanks again for the insight. You also touched on a couple of our existing problems, i.e. we can't consistently talk throughout our coverage area on portables (realizing, of course, that more portables won't solve this problem...that's another battle I'm trying to fight right now)

    As I see it, a good compromise would be to continue using our existing VHF radios, but plan on installing some of the new "interoperable" mobiles (700's, I assume) in our apparatus, and maybe a small handful of portables (like maybe 4 or 5, at the most), so that IF we ever had to respond to some regional or statewide disaster, like Katrina, we would have the capability to communicate. But they would only be needed on those rare occasions....they, like so much other equipment purchased with Homeland Security money, would be kept in reserve for the "big one" that we hope doesn't come. Meantime, we would conduct our normal operations, including traditional mutual aid, with our current system. Sound reasonable?

    Funny acecdote about the "new" 700 system....immediately after Katrina (I mean literally less than a week later), I got a call from our parish OEP director's office. They wanted, ASAP, a count of how many portable radios I would need to equip everyone in our department, because "supposedly" they were going to fast-track some major Federal funding to supply every response agency in the affected area with 700's. I sent our info in, but naturally I never heard anything more of it. I think that it was another one of those politician-trying-to-think-outside-the-box moments, but they VASTLY underestimated the number of radios that would be requested. So that emergency project fell by the wayside, but I'm sure it's still simmering on a back burner somewhere....
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

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    I think that sounds like a good plan. It certainly doesn't make sense to switch all of your operations over to a new system if no one around you does.

    And as for responding to "the big one"...any time there is a "big one" not everyone responding is going to have the same type of communications gear. The key is preplanning. Some states are very good at this, others are not. When it's a "really big one" like Katina and agencies from multiple states respond, it can get really interesting. I think the only real solution to this would be federal intervention. There has been some talk of a nationwide public safety radio system. That would be great, but the expense would be astronomical. In the meantime, the federal government has done some things to help with nationwide interoperability. One of the most practical was the creation of the TAC channels. For each band, there are a number of channels that are designated for interagency communications. I highly recommend that all agencies have these channels preprogrammed in their radios. VCALL and VTAC 1 through 4 for VHF, UCALL and UTAC 1 though 4 for UHF, ICALL and ITAC 1 through 4 for 800 MHz, etc.

    One possible scenario for using these channels at a major event is that crossband links could be set up to link VCALL to UCALL to ICALL, VTAC1 to UTAC1 to ITAC1, etc. That way agencies that have radios on different bands could talk to each other on the TAC channels. As usual, the key is preplanning...having those channels already in your radios and having the crossband link systems available.

    Radio interoperability is very similar to other types of mutual aid interop. If your department has 5" LDH and the deparment next to you has 3", it's in everyone's best interest to have 5" to 3" adapters on their trucks in case they need them on a mutual aid call. But if you don't know what size LDH the department next to you has, you won't know what you need until you need it, when it's too late. So again, the key is preplanning, training, and executing the plan when needed.

    Andy

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    Well, our application is in...we decided to go with some modestly priced radios (more bang for the buck). We are requesting funding for 20 portable radios and 10 pagers....for the radios, we opted for 8 Motorola HT1250's, which have more features & capabilities, including page encoding, and these would be assigned to officers (captains and above). The remaining 12 portables would be simple 16-channel Motorola CP200's, for issue to firefighters. Then, of course, Minitor V pagers.

    I know I'll probably catch some flak about the CP200's not being "designed" for firefighting, but we've used Motorola P1225's (comparable price range) for several years now with success. We find they're rugged enough for our purposes and the amount of use they'll actually see. Our radio technician recommended them....says he has sold a bunch of them in the oilfield and construction industries, and I daresay they see more abuse in those services than they will in our little volly department.

    My philosophy is that I'd rather have everyone on scene with a pretty good radio than a handful of people with fancy, pricey ones. Just my opinion.

    So anyway, I included in my narrative that we had done some checking and don't feel that there would be a good cost/benefit return from buying the more expensive P-25 equipment, and that we would derive a greater benefit, in safety and efficiency, from having all firefighters carry a radio.

    I also tried to make a case for why I want to issue each firefighter their own radio. In the program guidelines they state that they will generally only allow 1 radio per seated position on your apparatus. I disagree with this concept...due to POV response, we will often have more personnel on scene than the number of riding positions we have on our trucks. Besides, what's an apparatus? Is my department entitled to less radios because we have 2 seater commercial cab apparatus, as opposed to a well funded East Coast department where every rig has a 10 man cab? Something doesn't sit right with me about that reasoning.

    Anyway, nothing I can do now but sit back and wait.......
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

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    Quote Originally Posted by dmleblanc
    Well, our application is in...we decided to go with some modestly priced radios (more bang for the buck). We are requesting funding for 20 portable radios and 10 pagers....for the radios, we opted for 8 Motorola HT1250's, which have more features & capabilities, including page encoding, and these would be assigned to officers (captains and above). The remaining 12 portables would be simple 16-channel Motorola CP200's, for issue to firefighters. Then, of course, Minitor V pagers.

    I know I'll probably catch some flak about the CP200's not being "designed" for firefighting, but we've used Motorola P1225's (comparable price range) for several years now with success. We find they're rugged enough for our purposes and the amount of use they'll actually see. Our radio technician recommended them....says he has sold a bunch of them in the oilfield and construction industries, and I daresay they see more abuse in those services than they will in our little volly department.

    My philosophy is that I'd rather have everyone on scene with a pretty good radio than a handful of people with fancy, pricey ones. Just my opinion.

    So anyway, I included in my narrative that we had done some checking and don't feel that there would be a good cost/benefit return from buying the more expensive P-25 equipment, and that we would derive a greater benefit, in safety and efficiency, from having all firefighters carry a radio.

    I also tried to make a case for why I want to issue each firefighter their own radio. In the program guidelines they state that they will generally only allow 1 radio per seated position on your apparatus. I disagree with this concept...due to POV response, we will often have more personnel on scene than the number of riding positions we have on our trucks. Besides, what's an apparatus? Is my department entitled to less radios because we have 2 seater commercial cab apparatus, as opposed to a well funded East Coast department where every rig has a 10 man cab? Something doesn't sit right with me about that reasoning.

    Anyway, nothing I can do now but sit back and wait.......

    I hope you didnt hurt your chances by asking for 2 different types of radios. The big picture is "interoperbility" by having all the same radios there is no question on the use of the radio if a firefighter has to use a captains radio. JMHO

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    Quote Originally Posted by RES81CUE
    I hope you didnt hurt your chances by asking for 2 different types of radios. The big picture is "interoperbility" by having all the same radios there is no question on the use of the radio if a firefighter has to use a captains radio. JMHO
    Interesting point....I hadn't thought of it from that angle. I don't think that the "interoperability" question comes into play here, though (and I hope the reviewers feel the same), because the "normal" operation of both radios is the same...that is, they will be programmed with the same channels, and the basic functions are the same...the HT1250's will have some nice extra features, but nothing that the firefighter would need to know if he simply had to use the radio for its primary purpose.
    Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
    Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
    Paincourtville, LA

    "I have a dream. It's not a big dream, it's just a little dream. My dream — and I hope you don't find this too crazy — is that I would like the people of this community to feel that if, God forbid, there were a fire, calling the fire department would actually be a wise thing to do. You can't have people, if their houses are burning down, saying, 'Whatever you do, don't call the fire department!' That would be bad."
    — C.D. Bales, "Roxanne"

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    Quote Originally Posted by RES81CUE
    I hope you didnt hurt your chances by asking for 2 different types of radios. The big picture is "interoperbility" by having all the same radios there is no question on the use of the radio if a firefighter has to use a captains radio. JMHO
    Uh, I'm not sure what you're talking about, but interoperability isn't about having the same radio. It's about having a radio that can communicate with another radio. Doesn't matter if it's a M1225 talking to a HT750, or a MCS2000 talking with a CP200. As long as everyone can communicate, there's no hangup about having a CP200 mixed in with a set of HT1250s.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThNozzleMan
    Why? Because we are firemen. We are decent human beings. We would be compelled by the overwhelming impulse to save an innocent child from a tragic, painful death because in the end, we are MEN.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Res343cue
    Uh, I'm not sure what you're talking about, but interoperability isn't about having the same radio. It's about having a radio that can communicate with another radio. Doesn't matter if it's a M1225 talking to a HT750, or a MCS2000 talking with a CP200. As long as everyone can communicate, there's no hangup about having a CP200 mixed in with a set of HT1250s.
    I actually heard at a recent Nims training that some of the communication issues are that there are too many differant types of radios within a department. So that is what I gathered from that statement. Again JMHO

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    Quote Originally Posted by RES81CUE
    I actually heard at a recent Nims training that some of the communication issues are that there are too many differant types of radios within a department. So that is what I gathered from that statement. Again JMHO
    These are not "different types" of radios. All that matters really is that they are the same bandsplit, will be programmed with "interoperability frequencies" (firegrounds, UTAC/VTAC/ITAC, common dispatch channel, etc) for the area.

    The radios will work fine together. Person A can talk to Person B, and when properly programmed, Person C can enter the mix and be able to communicate with A and B also.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThNozzleMan
    Why? Because we are firemen. We are decent human beings. We would be compelled by the overwhelming impulse to save an innocent child from a tragic, painful death because in the end, we are MEN.

    I A C O J
    FTM-PTB


    Honorary Disclaimer: While I am a manufacturer representative, I am not here to sell my product. Any advice or knowledge shared is for informational purposes only. I do not use Firehouse.Com for promotional purposes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Res343cue
    All that matters really is that they are the same bandsplit, will be programmed with "interoperability frequencies" (firegrounds, UTAC/VTAC/ITAC, common dispatch channel, etc) for the area.
    Unless you are going after a firefighter safety component of Motorola like the MDC1200 encoding and decoding. Then it becomes a problem because kenwood will still transmit, but if you are using that orange emergency button on top and incorporating it into your system and your decoding device at your dispatch center is motorola based, then it won't work right. Same hold true if it were a motorola portable and kenwood base, or whatever the case in your area is.
    Last edited by Not2L84U2; 04-17-2006 at 01:55 PM.

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