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A(possibly dumb) fire dispatch radio question...

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PriorMike

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Bear with me here as I'm not too versed on the technical side of how these things work...

Where I am each township(18 of them) has its own frequency for paging and fire ground communications, and dispatch has its own separate frequency that is used for communicating with them. Paging works(from what I understand) that the page is sent out on a certain frequency and the specific department has a base that rebroadcasts the page on the department frequency. The system is quite old, and there have been discussions on replacing/updating it.

Now, I don't speak for anyone else but myself, but I find it inefficient(and possibly unsafe) that you have to change channels to communicate with dispatch, removing yourself from the rest of the department.

My question is, does the technology exist that a dispatcher can monitor each department and also communicate with them on their respective channels? Has to be analog.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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Generally there is a main dispatch channel and often tone alerting is sent to individual stations over that channel. Then, each station uses a seperate fire ground (tactical) channel to work the incident. Dispatch generally can monitor and record the fire ground traffic, and communicate if more resources are needed.

In some areas, there are multiple fire ground channels so that multiple separate incidents can be worked simultaneously.

Not sure how your county and townships are set up. In the past, each Township may have had their own 911 dispatch, and now it is consolidated to the County? This is the case in many locales, where the 911 funding goes to one dispatch agency.

Yes a dispatcher can monitor virtually any number of channels and communicate with them. The limitation being the amount of call traffic one dispatcher can manage.

As far as Analog vs Digital. Licensees were pretty much forced into narrow banding the analog systems 4 years ago, though they had 17 years to plan. The performance of analog was degraded, so the "answer" was APCO 25 digital modulation. The fire community has had bonifide issues with audio quality and noise on fire ground operations when operating in the APCO 25 mode due to vocoder limitations, so has been slow to abandon analog. Also the highly reliable two tone paging and FSK alerting signals used by fire dispatch cannot be replicated in APCO 25, so that drives many rural operations to continue with analog.

Finally, the mutual aid channels operate with analog, so analog is pretty much staying around for many rural departments.

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Mr_Boh

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Doesn't sound like an issue of technology but rather of operations policies.

This could also be an issue with licensing depending on who the trustees/lincesees of the frequencies are.

If you have an association of the 18 individual townships that meets, creating a county wide (or whatever it may be) standard group of frequencies would be a worthwhile discussion.

This doesn't sound like they are making poor decisions with infrastructure. It just sounds like a combination of politics and history have lead to a little more difficulty in communicating.


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Mr_Boh

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To answer a big part of your original post, this day in age I see most wide area agencies like this move to create a consortium or attach themselves to a statewide radio system to either build/use a trunking system with a main dispatch channel, set of talk groups, and then sometimes create individual talk groups for each of the companies so they still have their semi-private communications channel to themselves.


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PriorMike

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There is a central 911 comms centre in the county that handles EMS and fire dispatching.

I brought up analog because the cost to go digital nearly caused the county powers-that-be to have an aneurysm when a study was done a few years ago. We're pretty rural here, so cost has to be a factor.

This is more for info for myself than anything else...
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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There is a central 911 comms centre in the county that handles EMS and fire dispatching.

I brought up analog because the cost to go digital nearly caused the county powers-that-be to have an aneurysm when a study was done a few years ago. We're pretty rural here, so cost has to be a factor.

This is more for info for myself than anything else...
The County should hire an independent consultant to:

Perform a system analysis. Examine the existing system design and dependencies, basically what is there now and how it is interconnected with other systems.

Perform a needs assessment, review the needs of each township.

Perform a system design for two or more solutions (at least one analog and digital P25 and DMR) with budgetary costs for the acquisition and subsequent maintenance of the system.

Draft an RFP to acquire the best system from the solutions above.

Often these agencies go directly to the manufacturer and ask for budgetary costs without any discussion of requirements and the vendors throw out a "big number". Then if that number becomes "the budget" you can rest assured that the bids from Vendor X and Vendor Y will be right around that number moving forward.

Also the technology tends to get locked in, "45 million dollar P25 system" without any consideration of the users needs.

Due to misinformation by vendors, several agencies here in Florida upgraded to digital P25 at 800 MHz claiming that the FCC had made a "digital mandate" due to "narrow banding". First, FCC's narrowbanding initiative did not apply to 800 MHz, and secondly the FCC has never mandated any digital migration from analog. These sort of words get into the county commission agenda and there is absolutely no turning it back. It could turn out that P25 is the correct technology, but you don't want to be basing multi-million dollar decisions based on incorrect assumptions. Yet it is happening.


Edit; I see you are in Canada so the FCC mandates might not apply. Pick some other "Fait Accompli" and the vendors will use it to their benefit.
 

Mr_Boh

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That and you should never have a manufacturer help with specs/RFP. That's how you end up with verbiage like "the volume knob and channel knob shall be exactly x mm apart from each other".

A couple rural Virginia companies are installing P25 systems to replace older analog systems. They used consultants and they posted their results on website for public view. Very interesting to read and learn the new process.


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PriorMike

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The County should hire an independent consultant to...
That was done.

So they had a look at what it cost another county to set up a simulcast P25 conventional system with POCSAG paging and, well, no dice. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it is what it is.

Listen, I get what you and Mr_Boh are saying. I just had a technology question. People above my pay grade have already brought up the issues the system has...
 

Mr_Boh

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I mean for the technology side that's just a matter of an attentive dispatcher with a good console built in the past 20 years or so. We have ones at my local agency that listen to many talk groups and analog frequencies and dispatchers can select what to listen to and transmit on the fly. You can hook it up to a touchscreen if you want to use your hands to transmit as well.

There are fancier "interoperability devices" but those are meant to be tactical and probably wouldn't be good at a dispatch center. JPS (formally Raytheon) comes to mind.


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That was done.



So they had a look at what it cost another county to set up a simulcast P25 conventional system with POCSAG paging and, well, no dice. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, it is what it is.



Listen, I get what you and Mr_Boh are saying. I just had a technology question. People above my pay grade have already brought up the issues the system has...


I'm actually working with a small SO to do something similar. They have a poor man's voted system that has been neglected for over a decade. Spec'd them a simulcast P25 capable system that could easily be rebanded (basically swap antennas systems and PAs) but it was a little more than they were willing to pay so now we are looking at the potential for a conventional single site with voted receivers (P25 capable as well) for a much more manageable cost.

Anyway, typically you'd see a paging channel and a master county dispatch channel. Departments may then have foreground infrastructure or may not (and just run simplex) depending on needs. I help maintain a large system that is set up in a manner where one county has a north and south paging site with the south being shared with another county. Departments have foreground talk groups and op talk groups (trunking) for inter-department coordination. Works pretty well for them.


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RFI-EMI-GUY

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That and you should never have a manufacturer help with specs/RFP. That's how you end up with verbiage like "the volume knob and channel knob shall be exactly x mm apart from each other".


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So you end up with one vendor who can provide knobs like that:

http://www.crosspointcomm.com/img/product_pics/thumbs/apx-6000-xe-m3-front.png

Inspired by this:


https://uproxx.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/zoolander-mugatu.jpg?quality=100&w=650&h=347
 

Golay

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Let's see if I'm reading this right

Bear with me here as I'm not too versed on the technical side of how these things work...

Where I am each township(18 of them) has its own frequency for paging and fire ground communications, and dispatch has its own separate frequency that is used for communicating with them. Paging works(from what I understand) that the page is sent out on a certain frequency and the specific department has a base that rebroadcasts the page on the department frequency. The system is quite old, and there have been discussions on replacing/updating it.

Now, I don't speak for anyone else but myself, but I find it inefficient(and possibly unsafe) that you have to change channels to communicate with dispatch, removing yourself from the rest of the department.

My question is, does the technology exist that a dispatcher can monitor each department and also communicate with them on their respective channels? Has to be analog.
After reading your query a couple times, my questions are:

1. What does what you call "Dispatch" actually do? It sounds like the paging system is what's dispatching.

2, How much are the fire ground frequencies actually used? Around here, there are several frequencies set aside for fire ground. Yet unless it's a large multi-agency fire, fire ground never gets used, all comms are on the same channel that the initial call went out on. Is it the same way where you are? If your neck of the woods is like mine, that there really is not much channel changing going on.

3. If your fire ground freqs are active every run, then just what communications are being done between "Dispatch" and the departments, once the rigs start rolling, other than maybe "Back in Service"?
 

PriorMike

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After reading your query a couple times, my questions are:

1. What does what you call "Dispatch" actually do? It sounds like the paging system is what's dispatching.

2, How much are the fire ground frequencies actually used? Around here, there are several frequencies set aside for fire ground. Yet unless it's a large multi-agency fire, fire ground never gets used, all comms are on the same channel that the initial call went out on. Is it the same way where you are? If your neck of the woods is like mine, that there really is not much channel changing going on.

3. If your fire ground freqs are active every run, then just what communications are being done between "Dispatch" and the departments, once the rigs start rolling, other than maybe "Back in Service"?
1) The call centre takes the call and pages out the departments. It is also our point of contact if we need EMS, police or utility support.

2/3) Each township in the county has it's own department frequency that is used on the fire ground, as well as being the frequency the pagers are set to. If you need to contact dispatch for whatever reason, you have to change channels. For example, if I book on with dispatch that I'm responding in the pumper, they will acknowledge and give me any further details about the call. Once I have that, I have to switch back to the dept. frequency and repeat that I'm responding as well as repeating the information I was just given, because no one else would have heard my conversation with dispatch.

I just find it a bit odd, that's all.
 

KB7MIB

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Speaking strictly as a fire buff and radio hobbyist for the past 40 years, your dispatch center should have the capability to transmit and receive on each of the 18 township fireground channels, as well as the dispatch channel.

In my opinion, if they cannot, it poses a potential safety issue.

John
Peoria, AZ
 

ofd8001

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There are about 15 separate fire protection districts here in Louisville/Jefferson County. For the fire service, the communications is handled by one communications center.

Firefighter alerting is done on an analog 5 site simulcast VHF with tone and voice paging. All that does is alert firefighters to a call for service and there is no "talk back" to the dispatchers. Each fire station has its own set of dispatch tones, one for fire calls and the other for medical calls. (Medical calls only go out to on-duty crews so as not to be nuisance to volunteer or off duty career firefighters.)

All other communications are done on a P25 trunked radio system. It is a 14 site simulcast system. We have 8 Fire Operations channels. That way multiple incidents can be spread out over different channels so as to avoid confusion. There are a couple of other channels that can be used for overflow or special response situations.

Dispatchers follow radio traffic on those 8 Operations Channels. I think its good to have someone away from the scene of action just listening in case there is a problem. More than once the dispatcher was the first person to hear a "Mayday" situation. Especially if a firefighter happens to be on the wrong channel (we are humans).

In additional to those 8 Operations Channels, each fire department has its own "Tactical" channel that is used mostly for "chit-chat" and after a fire is under control. As a matter of routine, dispatchers do not regularly monitor these, but they can if needed.

Also, there is a talkgroup on the trunked system that is hard patched to that VHF dispatch frequency, That's so firefighters will hear calls for service being dispatched if they don't have a pager with them.

In contrast to other feelings and I've got 40 years of fire service under my belt, I think our digital system is substantially better than our old analog system. The coverage and voice clarity is a whole lot better. Before we got the new system, at just about every fire chiefs meeting there was fussing about the quality of the analog system. Once the new digital system came around, the complaints stopped.

Yeah there might be some hard to understand messages if there is a lot of background noise with digital. But there were a lot of hard to understand message due to background noise with the "old" system too, probably even more.

Just like with anything new, things ain't perfect in the beginning and firefighters don't like "new" things. Digital did have issues at first but I think that's all been resolved, but the bad reputation persists.
 

DJ11DLN

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Fireground frequencies/channels/talkgroups/call-it-what-you-will exist for a couple of reasons. Primarily it is to avoid interfering with other incidents/agencies in the same system, but also to keep the comms out of the Dispatch Center. The Dispatchers have a lot more going on than just following what one agency is doing, especially if it is a combined dispatch that also handles LE and EMS as is common today.

So moving to "FG2" or whatever when going on scene is normal practice and is commonly an SOP. The IC will either keep their radio on scan, juggle 2 (or more) radios, or just keep an open pager clipped to the collar so that he or she can hear a call from Dispatch, move the selector knob to the appropriate position, and answer them. The latter is what I see being done the most in my area. Whether or not Dispatch is monitoring the specific FG, Ops, Tac, etc is irrelevant, because the IC on scene can't depend on it happening and is always prepared to switch over to Dispatch if they need to communicate with them.

It's just all part of how things are commonly done, and it takes a lot longer to describe than to do.
 

Rred

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Sounds like the post-9/11 discussions about why NYC police and fire couldn't co-ordinate and communicate even within the towers. Did the technology exist? Sure. No one wanted to buy it, or thought it really was needed. And now 16 years later...all over the US, police, fire, ems agencies can't communicate with each other OR the next municipality over, even though the problem was widely discussed and the FCC has (in theory) evicted the broadcast TV stations and so many others to reallocate bandwidth and provide nice new national co-ordination.

Technology? Exist? Really, that's the least important question. The six million dollar man wasn't built without someone signing off a budget request.

Much like the continuing new "surprises" we get in the US about bridge collapses because the infrastructure isn't maintained. That was "NEWS!" in the early 1970's, but every five years it becomes totally new again, because everyone prefers to forget about it, rather than ante up for safety.
 

krokus

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1) The call centre takes the call and pages out the departments. It is also our point of contact if we need EMS, police or utility support.

2/3) Each township in the county has it's own department frequency that is used on the fire ground, as well as being the frequency the pagers are set to. If you need to contact dispatch for whatever reason, you have to change channels. For example, if I book on with dispatch that I'm responding in the pumper, they will acknowledge and give me any further details about the call. Once I have that, I have to switch back to the dept. frequency and repeat that I'm responding as well as repeating the information I was just given, because no one else would have heard my conversation with dispatch.

I just find it a bit odd, that's all.
It sounds like some consolidation is in order. Moving all tone out onto one common channel, and all initial responses to another common channel. Then use the respective other channels for specific fireground needs. (IE: Pagers are activated on channel 1. Units responding call in on channel 2. Then if the incident needs it, start using FG1 for interior operations, FG2 for water shuttle, FG3 for exterior operations, etc. The IC could still relay pertinent info to dispatch, on channel 2.)

Having the two main common channels would require the dispatcher having access to sites that cover the whole county. This would probably need to be multiple sites, remoted to dispatch center/centre.

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@ mr Boh
>>They used consultants and they posted their results on website for public view.

Can you post the links? thanks

@ priorMike - There is a major price difference between DMR digital and so called public safety grade P-25 radios. You can buy a repeater and some portables for the price of one big dog P-25 radio with all its options.
 

Golay

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Agree

Speaking strictly as a fire buff and radio hobbyist for the past 40 years, your dispatch center should have the capability to transmit and receive on each of the 18 township fireground channels, as well as the dispatch channel.

In my opinion, if they cannot, it poses a potential safety issue.

John
Peoria, AZ
I'm thinking along the same lines.
There may be 18 different communities on 18 different channels, but all 18 are not going to be out on runs.
Dispatch is the place for some changes. One thought would be that when Dispatch sends a community out, they should have a couple more radios, and change channels on one of those to the community.

Also, it just seems a bit goofy to me that all 18 have separate channels. Like krokus says, there needs to be a bit of consolidation and planning here. Maybe a north and south, or an east or west. I'm guessing were not exactly talking about 18 thriving metropolises here. Just 18 small communities, with a few runs a day at most. Since there is a Central Dispatch, that means there is some sort of organization over all. I suggest the OP print and suggest our ramblings to that organization.
 
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