Forest Service and Repeaters

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What started out as just hiking the San Bernardino National Forest besides the Cleveland National Forest, the fires have kind of pulled me into a little bit more serious listening.

As I've mentioned before I live on top of a 2,100 foot hill overlooking Lake Elsinore. I can hear the Forest Service dispatch loud and clear. I've noticed that in the San Bernardino National Forest they keep talking about tone 1 or tone 11 or whatever it is. I can't quite relate to that from my police work because you know we just had channels that we stayed on and they were repeaters with the exception of our fallback channels that could be either repeater or simplex. It's like no matter where we were at in our division dispatchers could hear is just fine.

The question I'm getting to is why is it more common that I don't hear the mobiles using the repeater? Sometimes I can hear them but I guess I'm too far away unless they're on the front side of the mountain. Somebody told me if I took an old TV antenna and turned it sideways I could aim it and it did seem to improve reception. But not enough to hear the mobiles. I can hear the airplanes over the El Dorado fire. This is really a shame because it's the area that I like to hike.

So that's my question. If they have repeaters why are they usually using simplex to talk to dispatch?
 

Krmit

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The forest is a large area with varied terrain. This requires multiple repeaters spread throughout the forest on the same frequency. To manage that the mobile chooses the repeater in the area they are in by selecting the tone for that location. The repeater the mobile chooses may not be in your range to receive.
 
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Thank you very much for your reply. Maybe I confused what you read. I know that there are multiple repeater sites and I acknowledged that by stating that I know they use tone 1 or tone 11 or whichever one covers the area they are in. My question was why it seems the mobiles don't use the repeater much of the time but use talk-around instead. They basically go simplex on the repeaters output and I know that the Dispatch Center can hear them because they have a conversation. Our PD radios would do the same thing and the dispatcher could hear us but in our business the bad guys couldn't always.

I can't hear the whole conversation which brought to mind the question as to why they're not using the repeater and instead are going simplex on the output. I don't have a big fancy antenna system. Just a discone and now a TV antenna turned vertical. I know the mountain range is quite long and if I aim too far East the San Jacinto mountains get in the way which is somewhat blocking me to the Eldorado fire at the moment.

I hope that this helps clarify my question.
 

f40ph

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Based on my listening experience which is very extensive and daily with the San Bernardino NF, units using simplex seem to be the exception. Perhaps you're hearing a unit reply using a more distant repeater while dispatch happens to be using one that is more LOS to your location? Specifically, what frequency are you listening to? Maybe that'll help clear up the mystery.
 

leonzo

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Based on my listening experience which is very extensive and daily with the San Bernardino NF, units using simplex seem to be the exception. Perhaps you're hearing a unit reply using a more distant repeater while dispatch happens to be using one that is more LOS to your location? Specifically, what frequency are you listening to? Maybe that'll help clear up the mystery.

Here's another suggestion for what it worth. If you have a "tone" set on the receive frequency you can try changing it to no tone. For example if you are listening to 154.400mhz with a tone of 100.0Hz, you will only receive traffic when someone is using tone 100.0Hz. If you remove the tone then anyone transmitting on 154.400 you will receive regardless of the tone they are using or not using while transmitting. I hope this suggestion helps.
 

f40ph

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Also to build upon leonzo's message (if it helps you) the San Bernadino NF and Cleveland NF repeaters all send 103.5 on the output of the repeater even though there is a different input tone for each one.
 
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I am listening to 171.475. The units using the repeater usually state which tone they are on. The ones that are on simplex do not. This isn't a tone issue. The radio's I've used for decades we just had a button on our Rover's that would put us on simplex or talk-around. We used it a lot like in a foot chase. That way if we weren't quite making it to dispatch backing units could hear us on direct.

My ham radio Elmer had me do a test. He had me program the input and the output. I could hear the station we can scratchy on the output but not at all on the input. It's like sometimes they use it and sometimes they don't. I can hear Idyllwild right above me on tone 11 loud and clear and they seem to always be on the repeater.

I was just curious. We can let this go. I'm just trying to learn.
 

zerg901

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Earlier there was a discussion about the use of simplex on the Los Padres Natl Forest - 'simplex' / 'direct to dispatcher' is only available in 1 part of the Los Padres Natl Forest - maybe San Bern NF is the same

here is one of the posts - LPNF Forest Net Repeater Input
 

ko6jw_2

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Unfortunately your law enforcement experience is largely irrelevant to USFS radio systems. As has been pointed out, the selection of tones is used to select the desired repeater. The output tone can be ignored. It is always 103.5, but their radios may not even decode it.

There are only three frequencies in use the most important being 171.475. You will hear what you hear. If a repeater is out of range you won't hear it. If a unit is using direct you probably won't hear them. It's that simple and, aside from a higher gain antenna, that's it.

It is like the CHP radio system. It is designed for the use of members of that agency. It is not designed for the convenience of scanner listeners.

Here in the Los Padres NF the situation is the same except that those of us in range of Santa Ynez Peak can listen to the UHF link repeaters and hear distant traffic. As far as I know SBNF doesn't have them.

Someone with direct knowledge of the SBNF may have more information regarding the use of remote bases. If they do use them, the conversations are semi-duplex. The dispatcher can hear the mobile. You can hear dispatch. However, there is no repeater. There is some sort of link from the mountain top site to dispatch (microwave etc.) that you cannot monitor. Hence, the apparent one way conversation.

Repeaters are intended to facilitate mobile to mobile communications. It is possible that SBNF can switch sites into and out of repeater mode as needed. Some CHP sites can to this.

All of the is speculation. Hopefully we will get some local input.
 
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I was satisfied with a previous replies. As I mentioned my ham Elmer and I did a test where we monitored the input and the output. Some came up on the input and then obviously on the output. Others came up direct on the output. No-doubt I can't hear everybody because it's a vast area and I'm some distance from it to begin with. But to say that unless they're on the repeater I can't hear anything is doubtful especially if they're on the front face. I'm new but I learn fast and I would suggest that my experience with talk around on law enforcement radios is no different than a forest ranger with a radio on talk around.

We were down in San Diego over the weekend down at the tip of the Preserve and using his small handheld radio he accessed a repeater in Crestline. Wouldn't the reverse of that be true? I recall years ago we had a pursuit that took us all the way to the Mexican border. It was a father trying to steal his son and get him into Mexico. I was standing next to the officer that called code 4 on his Rover and was heard.

Thank you and all of you for your input. I'll try not to ask too many questions.
 

zerg901

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Another aspect might be that SBNF might have 16 repeaters - but the dispatchers might just use 3 of them. This seems to be how the Angeles Natl Forest operates. Each day when the ANF starts the Morning Lineup, you will hear them announce it 3 times.
 

es93546

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One of these days, probably after we get a good snowfall, I need to update the Wiki. I wrote all that USFS material back about 2016 and then dropped my account until recently. There are needed updates. The smoke is so thick up here in the eastern Sierra that I can't get that "better do that before October 15th" type of work. It is so thick it's even giving this old fire dog headaches.
 

es93546

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Here is a section from the 2020 R5 frequency directory:

BDF REPEATER TONES

(North to South)

SITE TONE BDF CH.


RODMAN 12 1,2
CAJON 2 1,2
BERTHA 5 1,2
STRAWBERRY 3 1,2
SAN SEVAINE 9 1,2
KELLER 4 1,2
ONYX 6 1,2
TAHQUITZ 11 1,2
BLACK 8 1,2
PINE COVE 14 1,2
SANTIAGO 13 1,2
SANTA ROSA 7 1,2

As you can see there isn't a repeater that is accessed with Tone 1. I have remote base station and microwave information for the Angeles, but not the San Bernardino. If I was a betting man, I would say Onyx, San Seavine and maybe Keller would be logical for having them. I'm not sure on the San Jacinto Ranger District. The Angeles drives me nuts with all their remote base, simplex, traffic. Oh well, I haven't been down there since early 2012 with no plans to go back, so what what the heck.
 

es93546

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Another aspect might be that SBNF might have 16 repeaters - but the dispatchers might just use 3 of them. This seems to be how the Angeles Natl Forest operates. Each day when the ANF starts the Morning Lineup, you will hear them announce it 3 times.
Dispatchers can and will use every repeater, the entire forest is not covered by just 3. The Angeles has something like 6 remote bases, I don't remember off hand. I should have asked them why they have this 3 times announcement procedure the last time I was at Fox Field. I'm guessing they do one on a remote base somewhere on the old Saugaus RD, once on Johnstone and once off Blue Ridge or something similar. I'm not somewhere with access to my paper or computer files on this.

He's interested in the San Bernardino NF. I'm not sure why you posted the Angeles info link.
 
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I am actually interested in the Angeles National Forest as well. I've just started my hiking regiment in the San Bernardino's. It's just straight up the 215 freeway for me. I don't want retirement to cause my butt to swing wide if you know what I mean. LOL. When I was a younger man my boys and I would go camping and fishing all the time and we would go up to Chilao or Buckhorn. It's a shame to know the right now they're burned out.

Now little San Gorgonio and Forest Falls and that whole area that I've been hiking are in danger. This really makes me sad. This is why I was making sure to carry my portable scanner with me so that at least if I was on a hike, which is usually alone, I would know that something was up and I could get the heck out of the area. I found 173.0375 for the El Dorado fire but I don't know of any frequencies for the Bobcat fire. I can't hear any of the low-power radios at either fire.

I too have noticed that they're using simplex rather than going through the repeaters but I didn't want to press the issue because I'm new here. I have much to learn but as a retired cop that's been using radios for 30 years it's not like I'm new to them. We used simplex all the time. When we were on the station fall back for example we could be on Simplex in the station could still hear us but it wasn't being rebroadcasted for criminals with scanners to hear.

The statement was made that if they were on simplex I would never hear them but I know that not to be the case because I'm also a private pilot. I know that if I can't talk to the tower often times all I need to do is climb and then we can talk. I live just shy of 2100 feet off the 215 freeway and I most certainly can hear the different dispatch locations of the San Bernardino National Forest. I can hear them from the Angeles and the Cleveland as well.

John wrote that I would never hear them on simplex and my statement about being a pilot and climbing in order to talk to ATC, I was once involved in a pursuit that went from Los Angeles down to the Mexican border. I stood right next to the officer that called code 4 on his Rover and it was picked up in Los Angeles. I have done some hiking of the Hollywood Hills and I know that mountain Lee is only 1,700 feet.

My point is that if a low-level sites in Los Angeles can pick up an HT at the Mexican border and they could here our dispatch why would it be impossible for me to hear forest Rangers on simplex when they're up at 6000 and 7000 and 8000 feet?

My friend and I went down to San Diego I guess it's a week ago now and he used his HT and talked to a repeater on Strawberry Peak in the San Bernardino National Forest. I looked it up and Forest Service mobiles use 50 Watts. My friends HT is 5 Watts. If he could hear Strawberry Peak and Strawberry Peak could hear him 120 miles away, why shouldn't I be able to hear a 50 watt mobile when I'm at 2100 feet looking straight at the mountain from 30 miles away?

The San Bernardino National Forest face is known as the Front Country and that's what I can hear. I can't hear the ones in the back. I suggest that there's no difference between a cop using a Rover and a forest Ranger using his HT. The only difference is that I didn't win the lottery and don't have a multimillion-dollar radio system to play with. LOL.

You gentlemen seem really great and I appreciate it. If I ask a stupid question please don't laugh too loudly.
 

avdrummerboy

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If I may harbor a guess, much like what CalFire and CHP dispatchers can do, the Natl. Forest system dispatchers can most likely select which repeater to use, or can link many or all of them together. From what I can tell, the repeaters aren't permanently linked together, so when someone keys up on one the traffic doesn't necessarily go to all repeaters in the system. This helps with traffic congestion on the entire system. A unit on the South side isn't necessarily interested in what's goin on on the North most side, so by splitting up repeaters like this, only radio traffic that pertains to that unit will be heard.

As was stated above, to our detriment as scanner listeners, the systems are designed with the end users in mind, not the general listening public. If anyone can find any UHF (or otherwise) remote links for the system, that could help the listening tremendously. These are most likely in the 400-420MHz range. This is what Joshua Tree Natl. Park uses, where Onyx is the mothership if you will and all radio traffic from the COMM Center goes through there and all RF from other sites is linked in to there where it is sent down the mountain to San Bernardino Dispatch via a 4 wire system that routinely goes down forcing them to use the BLM system.
 
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If I may harbor a guess, much like what CalFire and CHP dispatchers can do, the Natl.
I think it's the best point I've read. The systems are not designed for scanner listeners. I know that the mountain range is quite long and wide like a cigar. If everybody used the repeaters only one conversation at a time could take place.

I was looking at this Diamond F23 antenna that a lot of you have recommended and it actually looks like it has three tuning points. As if it covers the full frequency range so that it can be tuned for Cal Fire, the tacticals, and Forest Service.

Diamond F23
 

es93546

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I am actually interested in the Angeles National Forest as well. I've just started my hiking regiment in the San Bernardino's. It's just straight up the 215 freeway for me. I don't want retirement to cause my butt to swing wide if you know what I mean. LOL. When I was a younger man my boys and I would go camping and fishing all the time and we would go up to Chilao or Buckhorn. It's a shame to know the right now they're burned out.

Now little San Gorgonio and Forest Falls and that whole area that I've been hiking are in danger. This really makes me sad. This is why I was making sure to carry my portable scanner with me so that at least if I was on a hike, which is usually alone, I would know that something was up and I could get the heck out of the area. I found 173.0375 for the El Dorado fire but I don't know of any frequencies for the Bobcat fire. I can't hear any of the low-power radios at either fire.

I too have noticed that they're using simplex rather than going through the repeaters but I didn't want to press the issue because I'm new here. I have much to learn but as a retired cop that's been using radios for 30 years it's not like I'm new to them. We used simplex all the time. When we were on the station fall back for example we could be on Simplex in the station could still hear us but it wasn't being rebroadcasted for criminals with scanners to hear.


The statement was made that if they were on simplex I would never hear them but I know that not to be the case because I'm also a private pilot. I know that if I can't talk to the tower often times all I need to do is climb and then we can talk. I live just shy of 2100 feet off the 215 freeway and I most certainly can hear the different dispatch locations of the San Bernardino National Forest. I can hear them from the Angeles and the Cleveland as well.

John wrote that I would never hear them on simplex and my statement about being a pilot and climbing in order to talk to ATC, I was once involved in a pursuit that went from Los Angeles down to the Mexican border. I stood right next to the officer that called code 4 on his Rover and it was picked up in Los Angeles. I have done some hiking of the Hollywood Hills and I know that mountain Lee is only 1,700 feet.

My point is that if a low-level sites in Los Angeles can pick up an HT at the Mexican border and they could here our dispatch why would it be impossible for me to hear forest Rangers on simplex when they're up at 6000 and 7000 and 8000 feet?

My friend and I went down to San Diego I guess it's a week ago now and he used his HT and talked to a repeater on Strawberry Peak in the San Bernardino National Forest. I looked it up and Forest Service mobiles use 50 Watts. My friends HT is 5 Watts. If he could hear Strawberry Peak and Strawberry Peak could hear him 120 miles away, why shouldn't I be able to hear a 50 watt mobile when I'm at 2100 feet looking straight at the mountain from 30 miles away?

The San Bernardino National Forest face is known as the Front Country and that's what I can hear. I can't hear the ones in the back. I suggest that there's no difference between a cop using a Rover and a forest Ranger using his HT. The only difference is that I didn't win the lottery and don't have a multimillion-dollar radio system to play with. LOL.

You gentlemen seem really great and I appreciate it. If I ask a stupid question please don't laugh too loudly.
An LAPD handheld being picked up by the LAPD repeater system in L.A.? There is something else involved there or the LAPD has a repeater site on Santiago Peak, but that is unlikely and Santiago Peak did not do too well on my ham handheld just out to the west of the SD harbor on my 70cm (440 MHz) handheld. Handhelds are usually 5 watts lest they use up one batter before shifts end. The LAPD has high level sites around L.A. for both transmit and receive and a system of low level receiver sites tied into those repeaters. The best mobile signal from anyone of those sites is used to transmit the signal on the high level repeaters. Strawberry is far enough west in the San Bernardino Mountains to find that nice little gap in mountainous terrain just northeast of Fallbrook. Try having someone work Onyx and see if the results are similar, especially on the ham 70cm band, which will behave more like the UHF frequencies the LAPD uses. The face of the San Bernardino Mtns, is in the Frontcountry Ranger District, a consolidation of the old Lytle Creek (t might have had a different name, but the ranger district office was and is there)and San Gorgonio (Mill Creek) Ranger Districts. The Big Bear District was also combined with the Arrowhead Ranger District to form the Mountaintop Ranger District.

The LAPD uses repeaters on almost all of its frequencies, especially the dispatch channels for each division. That is why when I'm in the LAX area and can hear their repeaters on Lukens I hear the cars loud and clear. That repeater using the assistance of those satellite receiver sites I mentioned. I also hear the Bureau tacticals and citywide tacticals on repeaters as well. The LAPD does use simplex and I hear that when I'm down there as well. Bring up the LAPD on the Radio Reference database page for LA County. This time click onto the input frequency item just below the map. Choose the second option of "shown" rather than the default of "hidden." Take a look at all those frequencies with repeater input channels. Even the fallback/talk around channels use repeaters, but I hear everyone on incidents sometimes agreeing to go simplex, especially when a helo is involved.

As for understanding radio, being a user doesn't give a person much knowledge about how they actually work. I had coworkers in the Forest Service that knew nearly nothing, could not explain how tones and repeaters worked or even distinguish repeater traffic from simplex traffic. None of them worked in fire management and none in wilderness management. My first supervisor on the Inyo National Forest did not know Tone 3 from channel 3 and had been on the forest for 8 years prior to me. Miracle on miracle the radio in her pickup was always set on Tone 3, so when she dialed in Channel 2 she was able to work the Tone 2 repeater on it all the time. Then someone would call her and say Tone 3 and she would change to Channel 3, which was NIFC Tac 2 and tell me that she can't every hear anyone of the Glass Mountain repeater, which is accessed by Tone 3, but on channel 2. It was my first day on the job and she was giving me the district tour so I kept my mouth shut. I worked on the National Forest just north of the Inyo and knew more about the Inyo's radio system than she did. I used it time to time so I needed to. I should have sneaked into her truck and changed the external tone switch to Tone 6, which selected the Olancha Peak repeater on Channel 2 (Forest Net Repeat) located 100 miles to the south and she would no one would hear her, but that would not be like me.

Aircraft can pick up traffic at long distances, that is why aviation radios use fairly low power or the aviation band would be chaos. I've picked up fire department comms when I put my volunteer fire department pager in the window of a commercial airliner, up until the admonishment I received from a flight attendant.

There is a huge difference between an LAPD Rover and the radios used by Forest Service employees. The ROVER system uses satellite receiver sites that pick the best signal by a computer voting system. Forest Service systems do not, they rely on far more repeater sites than the LAPD. This is because within the city of L.A. the terrain is more or less gentle and most national forests are not, with some notable exceptions like the National Grasslands and the flat national forests in northern Arizona like where I started my USFS career. Tactical traffic is always simplex and command traffic is nearly always on repeaters. Whether mobile units communicate simplex to dispatch through remote bases or use repeaters depends on an individual forest's radio system and terrain. Up here on the Inyo National Forest there is one remote base for each system, the north forest net, the south forest net and the service net. So a total of three, plus the remote base on Air Guard and National Flight Following.

I'm sorry this is not in the same order as your post. The issue of hearing a repeater and actually being able to transmit clearly through that repeater is vastly different. I was able to hear repeaters from Bridgeport, California all the way from Mt Hoffman in Yosemite National Park to CDF repeaters south of Monterey. I could not bring up a signal on any of them, as I had a handheld radio from work I would program the frequencies in. There was an interesting knife edge signal path at the south end of the Bridgeport Valley combined with a large talus slope on a high mountain peak that facilitated it. I even tried the 50 watt base station in the ranger station on some a couple of the frequencies without success.

Keep on answering questions, don't make assumptions and don't stop learning. Above all, have fun!
 

es93546

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If I may harbor a guess, much like what CalFire and CHP dispatchers can do, the Natl. Forest system dispatchers can most likely select which repeater to use, or can link many or all of them together. From what I can tell, the repeaters aren't permanently linked together, so when someone keys up on one the traffic doesn't necessarily go to all repeaters in the system. This helps with traffic congestion on the entire system. A unit on the South side isn't necessarily interested in what's goin on on the North most side, so by splitting up repeaters like this, only radio traffic that pertains to that unit will be heard.

As was stated above, to our detriment as scanner listeners, the systems are designed with the end users in mind, not the general listening public. If anyone can find any UHF (or otherwise) remote links for the system, that could help the listening tremendously. These are most likely in the 400-420MHz range. This is what Joshua Tree Natl. Park uses, where Onyx is the mothership if you will and all radio traffic from the COMM Center goes through there and all RF from other sites is linked in to there where it is sent down the mountain to San Bernardino Dispatch via a 4 wire system that routinely goes down forcing them to use the BLM system.
National forest dispatchers, nearly all of which are located in interagency dispatch or comm system facilities can access every repeater on a forest's, park's, BLM districts comm system. If dispatch could not use a repeater, it would not be built in the first place. Unless repeaters are located apart so that the signals from two repeaters cannot be received by anyone on the ground at the same time, they don't transmit on more than one repeater using one frequency at the same time. Lookouts can almost always hear the majority of repeaters on a system, so the lookouts have to endure "repeater wars" as do any aircraft in flight. I can tell you personally, that repeater wars are hated by all. The California Desert District of the BLM could have Rogers Peak in Death Valley National Park and Lyons Peak southeast of San Diego transmitting on the district net at the same time and only aircraft at a high elevation could hear both, so no repeater wars for nearly everyone. But, the San Bernardino is a small forest in terms of acreage and distance then average national forests and the same situation does not exist. Joshua Tree National Park has multiple repeaters, each on a different output frequency, transmitting signals on each repeater at the same time. Command repeaters on large fires are set up the same way. These are called multicast systems and not simulcast systems, those transmitting from several locations on the same frequency at the same time. It's complicated as to how this works without repeater or transmit sites wars. It works mainly in flat areas, like your typical city, but does not work in mountains where signals get out of phase. CDF dispatchers will transmit the weather on all of the local nets on a unit at the same time, but each local net has its own repeater pair. So up here in the eastern Sierra, the Owens Valley Division of the San Bernardino Unit, they patch all three local nets together, those being the Valley net, the Mountain net and the Owens Valley net, Locals 1, 2 and 3. They do not simulcast. What I hate is when the dispatchers forget to turn the patch off when the weather or special announcement is over. I don't care to listen to all the medic dispatches the San Bernardino ECC makes for hours at a time, but don't want to miss an eastern Sierra CDF dispatch either, or any mobile to mobile or mobile with camp traffic either.
 
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