Mutual Aid Frequencies - Interesting Discovery

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Apr 29, 2008
Cape Girardeau, MO
Yesterday morning there was a major structure fire in Cape Girardeau (two alarm) and they requested mutual aid from both Cape Girardeau county and Scott City. While I wasn't surprised to hear the Cape county trucks on the Cape City FD system, I was surprised to hear Scott City truck on it! During the incident, there were Cape city, Cape county and Scott City units all on the Cape FD repeater. There was a seperate incident that occured at the same time that a Cape county unit responed to that was on standby at one of the Cape stations. Dispatch did not tone out that call but just transmitted the call and requested confirmation from the unit.

Also, the on-scene commander had everyone switch to "Channel 16" at the fireground, but since I was at work and had limited equipment I was not able to determine what frequency channel 16 was.

I found it interesting that Scott City had capability on the Cape system as they are "technically" not licensed for that frequency. It does make sense that they do have that capability, but I would have thought that they would have possibly used the mutual aid frequency.

So, I surmised the following from the incident:

1. Scott City has the capability to directly utilize the Cape FD radio system directly from the trucks.
2. Fire tone out is directed to individual units and not the station where the unit is located.
3. There is the possiblity the the Cape FD has the capability to operate on at least 16 "channels".

Nothing really earth shaking, but interesting none the less.



Premium Subscriber
Jul 9, 2003
090-45-50 W, 39-43-22 N
That's the norm here in Illinois. Its called pre-planned interoperability.

In this age of "almost-automatic" mutual aid responses, any Chief worth his salt already has all the neighbor's frequencies and squelch codes programmed in his apparatus and portables.

Legally speaking, all it takes is an inter-agency "Memorandum of Understanding" that states that if we come over and play in your yard, we can use your frequencies under your license, and visa-versa. DHS and MABAS encourage such MOU arrangements and have templates with all the correct verbiage readily available.

As far as having 16 channels, we in 'da biz' use this method to sell radio layouts to stubborn firefighters:

Most portables have 16 channel knob positions. Put your portable radio in your fire gear pocket. Put on your heavy fire gloves. Now close your eyes and find the channel knob with your gloved hand. Turn it to the left all the way to the stop- that's channel 1, your dispatch repeater channel. Now turn the knob all the way over the other way - that's channel 16 , your Incident tactical and MAYDAY safety lifeline channel. Open your eyes and put out the fire.

Illinois had had the statewide MABAS tactical channels in fire service for many years. 80% of Illinois fire departments get paged out on their own dispatch channel, and once they get to the fire switch to standard, plain analog VHF FG-RED (153.830 w/69.3 CTCSS) or FG-BLUE (154.295 / 85.4) on five watts for local Incident Command and safety communications. Five watts gets you out of the building and a mile beyond- all you need on-scene. The on-scene Incident Commander is the only one who needs to talk any further. Every white helmet comes with a radio for each hand.

The other 20% of departments use highly over engineered, technically complex, radio systems that are proprietary to their agency so nobody can talk with them without buying exotic five-thousand dollar radios. As a side benefit their over-priced systems subject their users to complexity and confusion, and are prone to fail in a way that ends up killing at least five firefighters every year. FDNY and Marin County, CA bought such proprietary systems from a /\/\anufacturer who employs more lawyers and marketing professionals than the combined number of engineers working for their competitors.

General rule of thumb: if you don't see the flames, be on the wide area channel and stay off the Incident Tactical channel so you don't walk on a firefighter yelling MAYDAY from the basement. If you're in the fire, you only need to have a vanilla radio that can talk to the pump engineer and safety officer, and don't need to wait for someone ten miles away responding to a different incident to shut up so you can call for more pressure.

The Fire Chief has his act together.
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