The Manchester, Conn., Fire-Rescue-EMS (MFRE) installed a communications system last summer that allows rescue crews to talk with emergency responders in neighboring jurisdictions. Useful for communicating with MFRE responders during emergencies, the system also allows the department to talk with city agencies daily.
MFRE serves the central Connecticut town of 60,000 with five stations staffed full time with career firefighters and cross-trained firefighter paramedics. In early 2003, MFRE decided to replace its old and unreliable very high frequency (VHF) two-way radio system. The agency needed an interoperable radio network that would allow crews to communicate with the surrounding Hartford County fire systems on low-band VHF and the Manchester 8th Utility District’s fire station, which uses an 800 megahertz (MHz) system. Additionally, the technology had to be compatible with the Manchester Police and Public Works departments’ conventional ultra high frequency (UHF) communications systems, because both agencies routinely respond to emergencies with MFRE.
With little money in its budget for the technology change, MFRE contracted with Wallingford, Conn.-based SmartLink Radio Networks to develop a radio interoperability communication system with low initial costs. In 2003, the department received a $263,452 federal grant through the Firefighters Investment and Response Enhancement Act to subsidize the system.
Now, MFRE uses new portable radios on a two-channel UHF network originating from a Sprint PCS tower behind the Manchester Police Department. MFRE’s old VHF network backs up the primary system’s mutual-aid channel and is used during special events, such as the community’s Fourth of July celebration and annual Thanksgiving Day Road Race. The setup provides instant access to the 8th Utility District’s 800 MHz, the county’s low-band VHF and the Public Works Department’s VHF systems. MFRE also can communicate with incident commanders at every school in the city and the Manchester Memorial Hospital to provide information about emergencies several minutes before responders arrive.
Using the new network, officials simultaneously announced an evacuation command to MFRE and district fire crews during a recent two-alarm fire in the city’s 8th district. Responders on top of and in the burning building were told to evacuate at the same time, which would not have been possible using the VHF network.
MFRE can expand its network with new demand or as new technologies become available. The department plans to include a wireless digital microwave point-to-point link between the Manchester Police Department tower and MFRE headquarters, which would make the headquarters a remote network site that could support additional or redundant dispatch capabilities.
MFRE also hopes to incorporate the Police Department and Board of Education from neighboring South Windsor into its UHF network. The extended interoperability would provide critical support throughout the Hartford County region when more than one agency needs to respond to an emergency.