CalFire Major New Labeling and Function Shifts

es93546

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It's time for those with a bank/file/system for large Cal Fire incidents to do some extensive reprograming of their radios. Many people are probably aware of this already, but Cal Fire has added many new tacticals for a total of 40 and now has 16 air to ground frequencies. Someone already beat me to the punch and submitted all the changes to the database so reprogramming is already an easier task.

The new air to grounds (A/G 4-16) were taken from Tacs 13-25. Old Tacs 26-37 have become new Tacs 13-24. New Tacs 25-37 have new frequencies. Tacs 38-40 have been added, I think from older frequencies that were labeled "Special Tacs" or some such. An unusual provision has been added to the CTCSS tone to be used for Tacs 27-40. Tone 17 or 67.0 HRZ is to be used for TX/RX on these tacs. Why not 192.8 HRZ or Tone 16 like Tacs 1-26? I have no idea. Many existing handhelds only have space for the first 16 of the now 32 standard tones in California, especially handhelds coming from other states used for mutual aid. Tacs 27-40 are going to be used mostly for extended attack.

One potential item of confusion is that there are National or NIFC air to ground frequencies labeled A/G 08 and A/G 14 in use in California. The National A/G frequencies are labeled 1 to 91 making it difficult for Cal Fire to come up with an alternate set of numbers for their air to ground channels. We will see if this causes confusion thereby requiring additional thought for this situation.

If Cal Fire could start using more portable repeaters with UHF link frequencies they wouldn't have to use NIFC systems at all. All Cal Fire Units have an additional command frequency assigned, but their use is confined to areas their limited number of fixed sites located near a fire cover. Additionally, if they have more than one major fire in the same area, they won't be able to use the same Command from their now Commands 3-4, 6-10 and 12. Note: Command 5's frequency is being used for a vehicle positioning system and Command 11 is for portable repeaters only. Use of the NIFC system has so far been in state responsibility area with substantial topography.

I hope this discussion is useful to readers.
 
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Ravenfalls

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The California PII system has Calfire command. Not sure how that will be used alongside current VHF with command. Every agency will have CRIS in their radio. The air Freq should stay on current VHF?
 

es93546

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I've now gotten the chance to go over the new Cal Fire channel plan. It turns out the first 12 channels are pre-assigned as local initial attack frequencies. Channels 13-26 (14 frequencies) are for extended attacks and assigned by North and South Ops. Channels 27-40 (14 frequencies) are the same frequencies as Channels 13-26, but are assigned, again by North/South Ops, Standard Tone 17 or 67.0 HRZ so interference is minimized from assignments of the first 14 extended attack frequencies. I would imagine that these assignments might be made on adjacent incidents and the difference between tones eliminates each incident having to listen to each other. There will still be interference by two strong signals transmitting at the same time. The differing tones would be useful in cases where distance causes signals from each incident to be weak at the adjacent incident, resulting in little interference or compromise of signal quality. This is the reason NIFC is assigning one tone to each incident using NIFC systems.

67.0 HRZ or Tone 17 is used as there is no use of that tone elsewhere in Cal Fire system.
 

es93546

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The California PII system has Calfire command. Not sure how that will be used alongside current VHF with command. Every agency will have CRIS in their radio. The air Freq should stay on current VHF?

It has already been stated in many documents published around the country that wildland fire is going to stay on VHF-High. The federal government, except for the NIFOG assignments, does not use the high frequencies. But those are not technically federal allocations, they are state and local assignments that have been coordinated nationally to allow for nationwide interoperability.

VHF-High works best in areas with significant topography. VHF-Low works better, but is subject to a lot of interference due to skip and needs very long antennas. Even though CDF is likely to have a place on the CRIS system, in my opinion, I don't see it being used on the ground by apparatus and crews doing the boot pounding on incidents. It may be used by batt chiefs and above while they are in their vehicles, as well as in incident command posts for interagency purposes until such time as everyone gets onto VHF-High frequencies.

I don't see CRIS being used much at all for air to ground communications on wildland fires or by any of the land management/wildland fire/natural resources agencies and related NGO's. The higher frequencies have too much reflectiveness to be used much in the mountains. That is one reason that VHF-High is going to be used in Mono County on the eastside of the Sierra Nevada for CRIS. I anticipate the same will occur for counties on the west side of the Sierra. I see the CHP's goal of going to CRIS statewide not working in the mountains, or requiring 6-12 as many electronic sites. Some needed sites might have environmental factors that won't allow them to be developed at all.
 

PrivatelyJeff

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If CALFire is going to do anything day to day on CRIS, I’d imagine it could be used for dispatch/operations in areas where they provide local contract services for fire and EMS, but even then, CRIS is meant for more mobile using and not portable.
 

es93546

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The California PII system has Calfire command. Not sure how that will be used alongside current VHF with command. Every agency will have CRIS in their radio. The air Freq should stay on current VHF?

I don't foresee federal land management agencies (NPS/BLM/USFWS/BIA/USFS) having CRIS in their radios. Possibly in some law enforcement vehicles and division chiefs and above. In those cases it might not be a common occurrence. In my opinion CRIS will not be the all functions/end all one system in California a lot of people are claiming it will be. I could be wrong, it's just my opinion and a couple of decades down the road when I'm in my 90's, if I make it that long, my opinion could be proved wrong. Who knows?

My personal goal is to live long enough to see a human mission to Mars where everyone comes back with the same number of fingers and toes they had at earth lift off. Each delay I see in the moon program makes me less optimistic about living long enough. I'm 72 now. Again, who knows?
 

es93546

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If CALFire is going to do anything day to day on CRIS, I’d imagine it could be used for dispatch/operations in areas where they provide local contract services for fire and EMS, but even then, CRIS is meant for more mobile using and not portable.

Quite often their contracts are in counties that have significant topography, but not always. Take Indio as an example. However, the Sierra Nevada foothill counties often have very significant topography.
 

Ravenfalls

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If CALFire is going to do anything day to day on CRIS, I’d imagine it could be used for dispatch/operations in areas where they provide local contract services for fire and EMS, but even then, CRIS is meant for more mobile using and not portable.

The new radios are not trunked system dependant. They use FirstNet when out of range. From what I see talkgroup wise for CDF, it's encrypted. Few mutual aid not encrypted. The system is new.

Possible CDF dispatch for all regions could goto CRIS? Then use their current channels for response? In Phoenix, once the system was built out, regional dispatch went trunked. Shortly after non fire & hazmat calls went trunked.
 

PrivatelyJeff

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The new radios are not trunked system dependant. They use FirstNet when out of range. From what I see talkgroup wise for CDF, it's encrypted. Few mutual aid not encrypted. The system is new.

Possible CDF dispatch for all regions could goto CRIS? Then use their current channels for response? In Phoenix, once the system was built out, regional dispatch went trunked. Shortly after non fire & hazmat calls went trunked.
Where are you seeing that? There’s nothing for CALFire yet in the database. I honestly don’t see them using it for day to day operations, just saying if they did, it would probably be for the contract stuff because they would be interacting with other local resources that may be on the system. But the conscience is that most local agencies won’t be using it either for day to day stuff so I doubt it will be used by CALFire at all.
 

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Can CRIS have some talkgroups be configured as a Travel Net? I ran across some old notes the other day and saw the old Travel Net coverage map and am still amazed there has yet to be a replacement system for long-distance comms for fire crews traveling to fires out of their area.
 

es93546

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Can CRIS have some talkgroups be configured as a Travel Net? I ran across some old notes the other day and saw the old Travel Net coverage map and am still amazed there has yet to be a replacement system for long-distance comms for fire crews traveling to fires out of their area.

Travel net is on OES 153.7550 simplex. Traveling units are to use repeaters on this for emergencies only. That is straight from OES itself. While in travel status rerouting resources and status is strictly by cell phone. Sometimes this can be limited by the fact that cell phones don't work everywhere in the mountains and in remote areas. The old R5 Travel Net was not publicized by the radio techs enough so no one used it much when it was in place. I know, I was traveling as a single resource and with crews at the time. The map and frequencies were printed on the back of the R5 frequency guide, but no one had room in their radios for it at the time, with many handhelds and mobiles of the time having only 14 or 80 channels in them. When I drove fire vehicles I could not find the travel net programmed into their radios.

Other geographical areas mostly use 168.350 simplex as a travel net. Strike teams of engines, dozers and crews use it on the road. It is mainly used to coordinate where vehicles are going to stop, what motel to check into, where to eat, where to park, what rest stops to be used and similar. You don't need repeaters for that. Interagency Hotshot Crews use the 4 2005 narrowband federal government wide all agency itinerant frequencies as assigned to each crew (along with a PL tone) for travel net. Everyone else uses 168.350.
 

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Many existing handhelds only have space for the first 16 of the now 32 standard tones in California, especially handhelds coming from other states used for mutual aid. Tacs 27-40 are going to be used mostly for extended attack.

One potential item of confusion is that there are National or NIFC air to ground frequencies labeled A/G 08 and A/G 14 in use in California. The National A/G frequencies are labeled 1 to 91 making it difficult for Cal Fire to come up with an alternate set of numbers for their air to ground channels. We will see if this causes confusion thereby requiring additional thought for this situation.
Speaking of the 67.0 tone being "outside" of the normal user select range for GPH radios: the way around that is to hard code the tone when building the incident clone. Most comm units prepare a clone for arriving mutual aid folks and to ensure things are correct, they'll lock the tone for the incident tacs. The only other option is to build a pre-programmed group that has the new tacs hard-coded. Since these "new" tacs 27-40 that are reused from CalFire tacs 13-26 are to be used for expanded incidents only, not initial attack, I don't see big issues with mutual aid units with legacy radios not having the ability to change tones on the tac channels upon arrival.

Regarding the NIFC duplicate air-ground numbers: NIFC will continue to be labelled as "A/G 08" etc in the radios. CalFire will continue to use "CDF A/G8" as their scheme in the radio. Not really much other choice.
 

tkenny53

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From what I can see/hear, every incident, things change. I had 3 fires at one time going on in Riverside county. This is run by CalFire. All 3 were within miles of each other and me. ICP, a mile from me. All the pages of channels and Freq’s, they still come up with their own system when on site. The eye in the sky, he has his own way, IC on the ground he will go his way, tones change. I have one system in my scanner that has just about every air and ground channel in VHF setup with no tones,
This last fire, I’m hearing air commands using frequencies from NorCal, with the NorCal tones. There are no set rules once they get fired up and running. Day 2 of the above fires, it all changed again, go figure… I did notice some changes come from a office desk, most likely controlling Freq and channels, like being issued as an assignment.
 

es93546

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From what I can see/hear, every incident, things change. I had 3 fires at one time going on in Riverside county. This is run by CalFire. All 3 were within miles of each other and me. ICP, a mile from me. All the pages of channels and Freq’s, they still come up with their own system when on site. The eye in the sky, he has his own way, IC on the ground he will go his way, tones change. I have one system in my scanner that has just about every air and ground channel in VHF setup with no tones,
This last fire, I’m hearing air commands using frequencies from NorCal, with the NorCal tones. There are no set rules once they get fired up and running. Day 2 of the above fires, it all changed again, go figure… I did notice some changes come from a office desk, most likely controlling Freq and channels, like being issued as an assignment.

Day 1 of an incident is considered initial attack. There are frequencies assigned for initial attack. be they air to ground, air to air (FM and AM) and ground tacticals. The second day, or second burning period, begins the extended attack. The initial attack frequencies are then freed up for additional incidents. When the extended attack begins North and South Ops assign frequencies from a long list of tacs, air to air tactics and air to ground frequencies. They will normally use the extended attack frequencies assigned until the end of the incident or when it is determined they don't need the assignments anymore. Example, they might have 10 divisions on a fire, which depending on topography and one division interfering with another on the same assigned tactical, might have 8 tacticals. As things wind down they might not staff 5 of the divisions and they release the corresponding tacticals. Riverside County is in the southern California Command 3 Zone, so they might assign it to one fire, depending on coverage of those repeaters, and they might assign Command 2 to another fire. The Riverside Unit also has 3 local repeater nets, East, West and unassigned. Again, given a repeater's coverage, they might use the unassigned net. People who regularly monitor Cal Fire in Riverside County might shed some light on the use of the unassigned repeater net.

What may have been perceived as being sort of random, in fact, is not that at all. It is all planned out. That is why Cal Fire obtained so many air to ground and ground tactical frequencies this last year. In that big fire season in central California (was it 2020?), they ended up using NIFC systems and everyone was lucky that when the higher elevations started to burn the Cal Fire lower elevation fires had been controlled. An example is the huge "Creek Fire" on the Sierra National Forest, which went nearly 300,000 acres and needed a complex comm system. If Cal Fire was still using NIFC systems at the time it would have complicated things quite a bit. That is one reason why Cal Fire expanded the number of tacticals, air to air (FM) and air to grounds. I wonder if they will ever get into the portable, linked, multicasted command repeater net operations.
 

norcalscan

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All the pages of channels and Freq’s, they still come up with their own system when on site. The eye in the sky, he has his own way, IC on the ground he will go his way, tones change. I have one system in my scanner that has just about every air and ground channel in VHF setup with no tones,
This last fire, I’m hearing air commands using frequencies from NorCal, with the NorCal tones.

usually a Unit has enough pre-defined initial attack frequencies to handle 2-3 incidents within the Unit. These include 3-5 ground tacticals, 1 air/ground with 2 rollovers, 1 air tactics with 2 rollovers, and an AM victor for further aircraft traffic with 1 rollover. RRU with the three local nets even has room for keeping command on a local net long than typical, but every Unit typically has access to 3 command net pairs as well to move command traffic off of local net.

After initial attack that evening if they know they're going extended they'll order up resources for the next day, including a new unique Air Tactics FM, Air Ground FM, and AM victor nets, as well as ground tactics.

It really is organized chaos, where it's chaos to the outsider, but there's order to it when you understand how it works. There aren't any north/south frequencies/tones. And nobody is arbitrarily changing tones on an incident. Can't quite make out where the possible confusion might be - but feel free to ask questions if you need help clarifying. Lots of calfire radio ears here who would love to help you make sense of the radio.
 

officer_415

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I have noticed a lot more use of NIFC frequencies for extended attack incidents in the past few years, rather than using CDF command, tactical, and air-to-ground frequencies.
 

es93546

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I have noticed a lot more use of NIFC frequencies for extended attack incidents in the past few years, rather than using CDF command, tactical, and air-to-ground frequencies.

The NIFC system is the best large incident radio system in the world. The portable repeaters that can be erected quickly with 400 MHz linking to establish a multicast network is superior. In 2020 Cal Fire ran out of frequencies with all those fires on the north and central coasts overtaxed the number of frequencies they had for command, tactical, air to ground air to air (FM). They need to build a system with portable repeaters that can be linked like the NIFC system. They are relying on fixed repeaters to cover command on incidents. They need about 5 more pairs for portable repeaters and frequencies (not VHF High) to link them. I'm sure they are discussing this, they would rather run on their own systems than build a NIFC system at their incidents.
 

es93546

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I have noticed a lot more use of NIFC frequencies for extended attack incidents in the past few years, rather than using CDF command, tactical, and air-to-ground frequencies.

Sorry for the delayed response, I've been rereading this thread. Having to use the NIFC system is much of the reason Cal Fire now has more tactical, air tactical and air to ground frequencies for extended attack.

The NIFC systems, as such, can use frequencies assigned by the NIFC comm duty officer that draw from federal frequencies in the area assigned to other federal agencies and not currently used by those agencies. This is a temporary assignment of the frequencies as in 3 months, 12 months or longer those agencies might start using those frequencies assigned to them. The appearance of these frequencies might seem random, but this is not the case. They try to label them so as not to repeat the moniker of, let's say, Command 37, rather they are up in the hundred number series now. However, sometimes they use Command 37 again with the same frequency pair, or even a new pair. I know there is a reason for this, even though it appears to be random. Communication Unit Leaders on each incident carry a set of CD's that show all the federal assignments in the country. They then find what is not being used currently, ask to use these frequencies from the Geographical Area Coordination Center the fire is in, who in turn forwards the request to NIFC, specifically the Comm Duty Officer, who tracks every NIFC system and the frequencies used, in one place. At one time they wrote this all out and hung it on walls in a room at NIFC. I would think they keep track of this on a computer these days.

During my last visit to NIFC about 35 years ago I saw the room where they hung all the frequency use on a wall using file labels in a fashion that looked like a huge, complex spread sheet on 2-3 walls in some large conference type room. There were no windows so they had a ton of wall space. I was there for a ICS training course there and got the big tour where they showed us everything, including the shop where they inspected and repaired handhelds and all the portable repeaters and link radios. Every radio, without exception, is inspected once a year and so their winter is quite busy. This was in February and they were dispatching crews/engines/air tankers to Costa Rica after the resource request went through the State Department. Quite interesting!
 
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