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Amateur Radio in the Firehouse

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  • Amateur Radio in the Firehouse

    This is, first and foremost, not about using amateur radio equipment whilst fighting fire. My $35 Chinese dual-band handheld wouldn't last long in that environment.

    Rather, this is about using the resources of the firehouse to support emergency (disaster) communications via amateur ("ham") radio.

    Most (or at least many) communities have either a Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) or an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) organization - and the two are often combined. RACES is usually overseen by the local emergency manager. These organizations are set up specifically to set up and operate nets in support of disaster operations. Our local hospitals all have amateur equipment in place and test nets are run quarterly.

    While hams are generally set up to operate without utility power for at least some period of time, many/most firehouses have backup power available. Oftimes, fire stations have a tower for their normal radio equipment as well.

    So the question here is, if your firehouse could conceivable serve as a community resource (especially a shelter, as is often the case in rural and storm-prone areas), have you considered working with your local RACES/ARES folks to perhaps install a suitable antenna on your tower or firehouse, and identify space in which hams could work?

    Recognizing that very often during emergencies/disasters regular communications fail or are overloaded, having a ham radio operator in your station might ease official communications that are not suitable for the fire radio or whatever else may be left. Many hams have embraced digital communications, which can make sending inventory lists, etc, a lot easier.

    We have installed a "dual band" ham antenna on our tower. There is no radio in place, but an incoming ham can provide that. A couple of other departments around the county have done the same. With it, we can hit several area repeaters, many of which run "off the grid," using a combination of solar, wind, and battery power to stay on the air. A commercial power outage will not affect them. Your local RACES/ARES group will likely be more that willing to help you figure out what you can do to help them.

    Becoming an amateur radio operator is easy - some study, a 35 question test, a radio, and you're on the air. Just in case you were thinking along those lines. I'm a ham (amateur extra) and a member of our local RACES/ARES groups.
    Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

    Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.

  • #2
    Just reading your post Tree...I think you raise some really good points here. Our county has a local RACES club. In fact, one of their members lives directly across from our fire station. I don't think we've ever considered approaching the club and asking how we could work together to support disaster operations.

    Do you have a rough estimate on what a ham antenna or a ham radio costs?

    Really neat concepts!
    Last edited by Skojo; 10-14-2016, 09:18 AM.


    • #3
      An omnidirectional antenna (dual band - 2 meter/70cm) will come in well under $100. Coax will depend on how far you have to go from radio room to antenna - figure $.50 a foot or so, plus a couple of connectors. You may want a lightning arrestor, which will add around $100. Mounting hardware will depend on where and how you mount the antenna.

      A decent dual band mobile will run ~$350, new, depending on what you get. They can be had for $100. Best bet there is to see if your local ARES group has a standard radio they like to use (or they might even have someone with an extra radio). If you already have a big enough 12VDC power supply for existing radios, you might be able to use that, otherwise figure $100 or so for a suitable switching power supply.

      Many hams and groups have the ability to operate "off the grid." Again, work with your local ARES group.

      It's possibly they may be happy simply having an antenna on a tower, terminated in a place they can set up their own radios (all of our hospitals are using the same radio). As noted, that's the approach I'm pushing around here - just get me an antenna. In fact, a 5 watt handheld, connected to an antenna on a tower, may be all they need to hit local repeaters. I've done that here at home. And I can do digital with my handheld.

      When all is said and done, if you've put $1000 into the project (radio and all), I'd be really surprised. $100-150 will get you a basic antenna on the tower.

      Don't forget to figure on room for a radio operator. If they are simply operating phone (voice), they need a chair and a little counter space for writing. If they are running digital, they'll probably need room for a laptop, and access to a printer if you already have one.
      Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

      Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.


      • #4
        Thanks for the info. Probably best to follow up with our local AREA club and work with them. Good info!


        • #5
          That's your best bet!

          While you're at it, consider going for a license. A Technician license gets you on the air, and $35 will get you a dual-band handheld suitable for hitting local repeaters. The 35 question test isn't difficult, and there are plenty of study aids on-line.
          Opinions my own. Standard disclaimers apply.

          Everyone goes home. Safety begins with you.


          • #6
            Yes, our local county EOC has provided the fire department a ham radio and antenna on our mast for use in emergency situations. In case other communications go down, they can send a ham i to operate or one of our hams can operate the radio as needed.



            • #7
              It has been a long time since I had an interest in a HAM license, but does it no longer require being able to send/receive Morse Code?
              Stephen J Bourassa
              Latham FD (NY)
              member since 1969
              challenge competitor since 1993


              • #8
                Originally posted by Fitguy51 View Post
                It has been a long time since I had an interest in a HAM license, but does it no longer require being able to send/receive Morse Code?
                Correct - For the basic technician license, it's a 35 question test and you get to use any frequency above 30 MHz (plus a few bands lower)



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