Did you ever wonder why you have so many channels in your radio and what they all do? Most agencies have a dispatch channel or “Main Channel” used to communicate with dispatch. Also, most agencies have a tactical or fire ground channel used for on scene communications so the main dispatch channel does not get tied up during on-scene conversations. Traditionally, departments also have neighboring community’s channels in their radios for purposes of mutual aid. While this system works sometimes, there are other times when you don’t have communications with the agencies you are responding to. It could be a different frequency band, or you could be responding as part of a task force and/or mutual aid outside your normal service area.
Post September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, reports showed major gaps in communications amongst jurisdictions and disciplines. In the last 10 years, major strides have been made in the area of interoperability, allowing for agencies to better communicate with each other both interstate and intrastate.
The days of having every departments channel in your radio are coming to an end, and the trend of “common” mutual aid channels or interoperability channels are the new norm. One of the biggest problems of having other department’s channels in your radio, is, if that department makes a change to their system such as a PL change, your radios won’t work until they are updated, and that’s IF you even know of the change. Keeping all the radios in your department up to date could become a full time job.
Interoperability channels can be local, regional, statewide or even national. These channels will only work if every agency makes it a priority to program them in their radios, and to be sure all new radios come programmed that way. It’s equally important to train members on these channels, as well as when to use them, and to have agreements with neighboring departments or mutual aid organizations as to which ones will be used.
In Western Massachusetts WMLEC is used as a regional mutual aid system. National Tactical frequencies are also used as interoperable channels and work well with both instate and out of state mutual aid.
For more information on interoperability channels, contact a COML, member of the MA COMU or your regional Homeland Security Interoperability Subcommittee member.
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Dennis Nazzaro has been a Firefighter/EMT in Western Massachusetts for over 20 years, and has worked for the Northampton Fire Department since 2004. He also works for the Department of Fire Service (DFS) Special Operations Team, and the Massachusetts Fire Academy (MFA) as an instructor. Dennis is a Communications Unit Leader and Technician (COML/COMT) for the Massachusetts Communications Unit (MACOMU) and the Northwest Massachusetts Incident Management Team (NWMIMT). He is also a member of the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Interoperable subcommittee and Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee policy and programs subcommittee. Dennis has been involved with development of the MIFOG, SCIP, MTCP as well as WMLEC expansion and working with local, regional and state communication systems.
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