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  • Nextel in the Fire Service

    Does anyone's department use the Nextel system as a backup radio system or anyway to alert fire fighters? Curious to see how other departments use either the two-way feature of Nextel or text messaging, etc.

    - Turk II

  • #2
    In my opinion, the use of Nextel or text-message type communications for anything other than non-essential non-fireground non-dispatch administrative communications is irresponsible. In a system like this, your traffic gets no more priority or only partial priority over "honey can you get the kids at school traffic" and such.

    ANY communications system used as a primary or as a backup should be under the complete control of your agency our your governmental agency you work for, period, and not have to share system capability with hundreds of other users. Ever try to use a cellphone or Nextel direct connect during a major disaster or incident? Everyone around you is also, and the system gets overloaded fast. Plus you have no assurance of how dependable the backup power system is, how secure the site is, and how well the system is maintained. All very important issues.

    As an example, our county sends alpha pages over a commercial system in addition to radio dispatch, not as a backup but more as a way to keep chiefs and officers up to date on whats happening when they are away ay work and such. Because the transmitter for the system has to share its capability with all the "honey bring some milk home" pages, I get the pages anywhere from 3-9 minutes after the radio page, often when I am alreday on scene.

    The only way for aplha pagers or such to be an acceptable method of primary or secondary dispatch is if the city/county/department owns the paging transmitter and it is used ONLY for these types of pages, therefore assuring priority and reliability.

    Now for administrative functions, it seems to work well. My department issues 2 way aplha pagers to the officers and about 3/4 of the members have purchased them also, and for routine non-call related communications it works great. But as a dependable system for any type of dispatch, forget it. The lag time is too great and the system fails too often. When lives are on the line, you need a system that you have control over.


    • #3
      I gotta agree with radioguy. This issue was discussed here a while back and a Nextel sales guy jumped in, so get ready.

      Why would you use a paid service, that relies on some other company's personnel and equipment, for emergency communications? It makes no sense. If there is a bookkeeping error, they can shut off the service. That's handy in an emergency. I can always tell that the dead zones (covering about 25% of our county) will be where the major jobs are. Also, customer service stinks. Also, it won't work if there is no power. How did you guys make out in the blackout?


      • #4
        Our Chief has a nextel and there is one for the shift captain. However, a couple of us have our own nextels that we carry and use when radio traffic may be heavy (we are dispatched by police. We also use them for non essential traffic to chat back and forth during the day such as ..."pick up lunch" or "go by the office for mail" or simply "where are you?" We have also used them when the wonderful 800mghz system we have does not work well in some buildings. In that case the only way to talk from pumper to the oic is via nextel....

        I agree with radioguy and George!
        09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
        IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
        "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
        BMI Investigator
        The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


        • #5
          Another reason ot stay away from Nextel is that if your agency uses 800mhz radios, Nextel has been known to cause really bad interfernce on many 800mhz systems, leading to poor to no coverage in many areas that should otherwise be covered by a system.

          Stan, your poor coverage problems may be caused in part by the system you have to use to get through! Ironic isn't it!

          Of course, Nextel proposed a solution to the FCC- thier solution was to simply make all public safety switch frequencies and leave the prime chunk of 800mhz to them. Nextel offered a very small token amount of money to help fund it, which when divided between the 2,200 estimated agencies affected might have bought one portable each.

          Run a Yahoo search for "Nextel interferance" and read on!


          • #6
            Found this article, it shows what kind of interferance these systems can cause:

            The explosive growth of the mobile phone industry has crowded and tangled the nation's airwaves to such an extent that wireless company signals are increasingly interfering with emergency radio frequencies used by police and firefighters, public safety agencies said.

            Emergency departments across the country -- including some in the District, Maryland and Virginia -- report unsettling stories of officers who can't call for backup, dispatchers who can't relay suspect descriptions and firefighters who can't request ambulances because of radio "dead spots" believed to be caused by wireless phone interference.

            "Just by the grace of God or good luck, we've been able to avoid a major problem," said Gary Manougian, a police officer in Portland, Ore. "But I don't think we can go on like this indefinitely."

            The Federal Communications Commission has vowed to find a solution, even if it has to reorganize a large swath of the radio spectrum -- a massive and controversial task, potentially costing hundreds of millions of dollars and taking years to complete, industry officials said.

            FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said in a speech last week that "it is one of my top priorities . . . to ensure that public safety has the reliable spectrum resources it needs to do its lifesaving work." He warned that solving the problem "may be one of the most challenging spectrum policy proceedings" to come before the agency.

            No death or catastrophe has been attributed to such communication problems, said Robert Gurss, director of legal and government relations for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, a nonprofit organization representing emergency communication officials.

            But dozens of agencies large and small -- from New York City to Androscoggin County, Maine -- have registered complaints, and one public safety coalition estimates that interference is a problem in at least 27 states.

            The issue has its roots in the 1970s, well before the popularity of mobile phones, when the FCC assigned channels in the 800 megahertz band to public safety departments. In the 1980s, wireless companies began to acquire, with federal approval, space adjacent to the emergency radio frequencies. Soon, the wireless phone industry started to grow. Last year, there were an estimated 140 million wireless phone subscribers, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association said.

            An increasing number of public safety agencies moved into the 800 megahertz band as well, and as the agencies and wireless companies occupied more spectrum space, airwave conflicts intensified.

            Communication officials said many factors cause interference. A common problem arises when a police officer, for example, is close to a wireless phone company transmitter but far from a tower that carries the signals for emergency radios. In that situation, the wireless phone tower overpowers the officer's radio, rendering it useless, the officials said.

            To solve the problem, the FCC is considering reshuffling channels in the 800 megahertz band. The idea is to separate the wireless companies from the public safety departments, so they inhabit different ends of the band.

            None of the companies is doing anything wrong, FCC officials said. As organized, the spectrum, which is a limited resource, simply can't accommodate everyone.

            There are several wireless companies operating in the 800 megahertz band, including Verizon, AT&T Wireless and Cingular, the FCC said. Most of the complaints that the agency has received have been caused by Reston-based Nextel Communications Inc. because many of its band frequencies abut those of emergency radios.

            Mindful of the mounting pressure, Nextel has teamed with a broad coalition of partners -- including the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International and the International Association of Chiefs of Police -- to develop a proposal to reorganize the spectrum, which, if approved, would give Nextel some prime real estate in the airwaves.

            Nextel also has offered to pay $850 million for the cost associated with reshuffling the channels if its plan is adopted. The company's proposal is just one of many the FCC is reviewing.

            Many communication experts said that a complete reorganization of the spectrum is unnecessary, too expensive and too time-consuming. Meanwhile, public safety officials said the situation is urgent. "If we don't fix this now, it's only going to get worse," Gurss said.

            Anne Arundel County police officer Patrick A. Fisher said he ran into the problem one day this spring. The call from his partner that came over the radio was crackled and fuzzy, and Fisher could make out only two words: "start . . . fire." Fisher sensed a tone of urgency in the other officer's voice and rushed to the street he knew his colleague was patrolling.

            When he arrived, he saw the other officer futilely fighting a house fire with a garden hose. Fisher reached for his radio, but its reception was too weak until he drove a few blocks away. Finally, firefighters arrived. "If it was another couple of minutes," Fisher said, "the whole side of the house would have been gone."

            About two years ago, police officers in Portland were chasing a man after a carjacking attempt when their radios went dead. The man ran through a suburban area, then hid in the woods. About a dozen officers dropped into formation around him. "We were trying to set up a perimeter, but our radios wouldn't work," Manougian said. Some officers had to run into nearby homes to call in information to the dispatcher.

            Denver has identified at least 24 dead spots in its communications system, and the police officers know where they are, said Dana Hansen, superintendent of communications for the city's police department. It's particularly troubling, she said, that many of the dead spots happen to be at major intersections where many traffic accidents occur.

            When Fairfax County first purchased an 800 megahertz radio system, it had interference problems, said Mernie Fitzgerald, a county spokeswoman. Nextel and Cingular agreed to reconfigure their systems in the county, and they were able to solve the problem, she said. "We haven't had any problems in the last two years," she said.

            Montgomery County recently spent $175 million on a communications system that includes an 800 megahertz radio network. The county took care to ensure there wouldn't be any interference problems, said Lt. Dallas Lipp of the county fire and rescue department. The county's system is on a different part of the spectrum than local wireless phone networks, he said, so its system is less susceptible to problems.

            "But we're always monitoring how our system is performing," Lipp said.

            The District filed an interference complaint last spring with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. Now, having been awarded a $40 million grant from the federal government, the city plans to build seven transmitters and receivers to strengthen its radio system's signal.

            Anne Arundel County plans to spend $15 million over five years to build more towers and to update its equipment. And last year, county officials passed a zoning law that required wireless companies to certify that their signals would not interfere with the county's radio system.

            Cingular asked the FCC to strike down the ordinance. Last month, the commission did so, saying that the county was trying to regulate the airwaves through its zoning code. The county, which has appealed the FCC's decision, has worked with the companies to reduce the interference. The effort appears to be working: The number of known dead spots has dropped from more than 60 to about 20, county officials said. Still, they said, 20 is too many.

            Meantime, Fisher said many colleagues on the Anne Arundel County police force have found their own solution: They carry cell phones in case their radios go dead.

            © 2003 The Washington Post Company


            • #7
              What's Your Beef?..............

              Why do I feel that tis is turning into a "Bash Nexthell" (as some call it) thread? I honestly feel that the interference with 800 trunking that's blamed on Nextel is more Motorola's fault for designing a poor system. We do not have 800 Trunking and we plan to avoid it at all costs. Since 9-11, "interoperatibility" has been the big buzzword in communications. So? I could care less. I DO NOT want to talk to the Dogcatcher, the Police Chief, or my County Councilman. My need is to talk to my Firefighters, WHEREVER THEY ARE AT THE MOMENT. Since the majority of us have Nextels, we can talk to each other. Anyone who thinks Nextel is out to take over as a communications system for Emergency Services, and drive conventional radio systems out, is smoking that $4,000.00 Marijuana from another thread here on the Forums. Everything has it's place, including Nextel. Stay Safe....
              Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
              In memory of
              Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
              Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

              IACOJ Budget Analyst

              I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



              • #8
                Chief...easy now.

                I was on another forum and this issue came up. The question from the guy went something like this, "Have you guys ever had a problem monitoring your fire crews inside?" Of course everyone said yes, we all have. In the next post, "we had a boat fire and the interior crew was using their nextel to call me at the command post".....I was absolutley dumbfounded. Nextel phone have their place. It is not on the fireground as a primary communications device. (at least in my opinion). A town that is 2 towns over from me has Nextel in all their trucks, plus for the admin. Their dispatchers go crazy because when they dispatch a call, half acknowledge on the radio, half on the Nextel. Or they ask question of dispatch enroute, via the phone, while others are on the radio. Dispatchers are supposed to multitask, but that is bordering on silly.

                Around here there was a time when the Nextel sites did not have backup power supply. So that was another issue, what happens when there is no power.

                Radio systems for Dispatch and fireground should be proprietary for that agaency, period. Everything else should be used in the support/admin role.



                • #9
                  I agree that we should use regular fireground radios for response and the like. That way we are all on a even playing field when we arrive on the scene.

                  The Nextel may be a non essential backup. We have been told for a small price we can have priority over the mom and pop conversations on the nextel. I heard at one time $10 a month or something like that. We do use them for the non fireground stuff like where are you at when we are not on a call. Some of my guys that have them may even bump me while I am at work if they have a question about a duty or something like that.

                  I am finding this thread quite interesting however because our County just recieved a huge homeland security grant and guess what they are shooting for-800mega system. They tell us all they need is enough towers to cover the area and everything will be fine.

                  I wonder if they have heard of the interferance thing with the 800 system. I guess I will dig some info and give it to our communications director.

                  Thanks for some interesting info.
                  Les Hartford
                  Assistant Chief
                  LMR Fire Dept.

                  The views posted here are strickly my own and not of any of the groups I am affiliated with.

                  IACOJ Member


                  • #10
                    Re: What's Your Beef?..............

                    Originally posted by hwoods
                    Why do I feel that tis is turning into a "Bash Nexthell" (as some call it) thread? I honestly feel that the interference with 800 trunking that's blamed on Nextel is more Motorola's fault for designing a poor system. We do not have 800 Trunking and we plan to avoid it at all costs. Since 9-11, "interoperatibility" has been the big buzzword in communications. So? I could care less. I DO NOT want to talk to the Dogcatcher, the Police Chief, or my County Councilman. My need is to talk to my Firefighters, WHEREVER THEY ARE AT THE MOMENT. Since the majority of us have Nextels, we can talk to each other. Anyone who thinks Nextel is out to take over as a communications system for Emergency Services, and drive conventional radio systems out, is smoking that $4,000.00 Marijuana from another thread here on the Forums. Everything has it's place, including Nextel. Stay Safe....
                    Actually Chief, Nextel is out to take a big chunk of the public saftey communications $$$, and every dollar they get is money that should have been spend on a depenable , agency owned system. Just look at thier website:


                    Some highlites:

                    "Fulfilling the mission to protect and defend requires that first responders and all who support them in times of crisis work together. To ensure success - especially when communications must cross traditional boundaries - agencies need secure, reliable and interoperable communications.

                    Nextel Wireless Solutions combine a superior all-digital network with advanced communications and mobile data applications designed for and with public safety agencies. You can keep your teams connected to the people and the information they need to do their jobs, whether it's during day-to-day operations or emergency situations. Nextel Wireless Solutions help you"

                    "Improve the safety of your officers and the public.
                    Police officers can run license plates or view mug shots and get critical data quickly. Information from database queries can be used to generate automatic alerts and calls for backup. "

                    "Simplify and reduce the cost of communications.
                    By integrating voice and data services on one handset, Nextel solutions save you the cost of multiple devices. Plus, Nextel's public safety solutions meet federal grant guidelines for the purchase of interoperable communications equipment by local and state government.
                    With Nextel Wireless Solutions, you get the interoperability, coverage, capacity and reliability needed for your critical communications requirements. Contact a Nextel Government Account Manager today to find out how Nextel can help you implement a solution that enhances your existing communications system and needs.

                    They are after the public safety market, and selling themselves as something they are not. If anyone is using Nextel for anything more critical than "get me a burger on your way in", you should really look at investing in a beefier agency owned communications infrastructure. Why would anyone in thier right mind spend $$$ to get on a system that they do not own, have no control over, and is not guaranteed to be up at the most critical moments (ask those in the blackout area how well Nextal functioned, it was spotty at best, agency owned systems fared much, much better), and they have to pay every month for? And have to pay even more if they want "priority? Spend that money on something you have control over! Buy a second repeater for admin use, and you can use it as a backup for your primary system as well. That way your guys only need 1 radio, not a radio and a Nextel phone.

                    I agree Motorola could have done a better job of protecting the system from inteference, but you have to keep in mind when these systems were designed a service like Nextel was not in existance, and throughout history the FCC has a clear track record of making sure that anyone who causes interferance with public safety communications was dealt with harshly. But then again untill now they never had interferance caused by somebody with Nextels political clout.

                    For those of you using Nextel to fill the gaps caused by poor coverage or lack of admin channels, the $$ spent on Nextel should be going into fixing those poor coverage areas or adding admin channels, instead of just relying on a third-party system.

                    Bottom line, every $$ spent on Nextel is money that is much better spend upgrading your existing system to handle your needs, unless you have such a great system that you have no need for upgrades. But then you wouldn't need Nextel.........
                    Last edited by radioguy; 09-28-2003, 12:35 PM.


                    • #11
                      A dept not to far away from me got Nextels for all their Fulltime personnel for callins and off duty response(16 people). I think in someways its good but in others its bad. We talked about it before we issued all personnel their own portable. It was decide that in the long run we could get more use out of our portables than a nextel. I know that one of the local 2 Private EMS departments do all their dispatching off nextel, they also have radios but a majority is off nextel.

                      Nextels have their purpose but not for emergency traffic...I'll stick to radios.
                      AKA: Mr. Whoo-Whoo

                      IAFF Local 3900

                      IACOJ-The Crusty Glow Worm

                      ENGINE 302 - The Fire Rats

                      F.A.N.T.A.M FOOLS FTM-PTB


                      • #12
                        We are on the 800 Mhz bandwith and we have nextels. No radio system is perfect, but ours is reliable with few "dead spots". In most cases. just moving a few feet takes care of the dead spot problem.

                        The nextels are used for non essential comm traffic, question about inspections, etc. or for comms that you do not want the people in "scannerland" to hear.
                        ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
                        Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY


                        • #13

                          Maybe I let my dislike for Motorola override my usual writing skills (or lack thereof, the jury's still out on that). Truth is, I have a deep dislike for Motorola, 800 Mhz, and Trunking Systems, in no particular order. I prefer a low band simplex system over everything else out there. Suprisingly, after having said that, I will jump up quick to tell everyone how much I like my Nextel. Nextel works well for me, and those others in the dept. who have them. It's comedy material, but we use nextel to circumvent a certain B/C all the time. Stay Safe....
                          Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
                          In memory of
                          Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
                          Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

                          IACOJ Budget Analyst

                          I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



                          • #14
                            I prefer a low band simplex system over everything else out there.

                            We use a high-band repeater system which runs off of the mobile radios mounted on the apparatus. Fortunately, we kept a few old low-band portables around ... these are the ones I use.

                            When the radio doesn't work, my Nextel does. That's as simple as it gets. Should the Nextel replace a dispatch/radio system? Never. Does it have its place? Yes.

                            but we use nextel to circumvent a certain B/C all the time.
                            In PG County? I am flabbergasted ...

                            Stay Safe


                            • #15
                              We have quite a few people who have Nextels. The city ended up getting some for all the administrative personnel (Police Chief, Onn duty Sgt, Detectives, Mayor, Administrator, Fire Chief, Echo Unit, Public Works Director, etc....). We use our Nextels all the time and haven't had any major problems. They are NOT used for primary incident communications. I can't say that they have NEVER been used if we were unable to get out on our portables. I can't even say they'll never be used as a backup. I know that if I'm in trouble and can't get out on my portable, I'm gonna try my Nextel.

                              We are on a VHF 153MHz freq. and have problems with our radios. We can't even talk from one end of the city to the other (only 7 miles wide and no structures taller than 3-4 stories) on our portables. In fact, just yesterday we couldn't hear our Chief (who was on his portable approximately 4-5 miles away) when we were in the engine heading that way.

                              Sorry to get off topic...... Also a neighboring dept (Weruj1, you out there) has issued Nextels to all of their officers.
                              The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
                              We are all adults so there is no need to act like a child........


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