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Author Topic: Fire/EMS pagers subject to failure?  (Read 5422 times)
N9ZHW
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« on: April 15, 2011, 10:54:45 AM »

Anyone know if it's true what I hear about sunspots, etc. causing havoc to pagers set off by 911 operators? I've read stories about how sun flares and the like can cause such high E.M.P. effects that Fire Dept. and E.M.S. pagers could fail to go off, or be set off accidentally causing "false alarms". If this is true, shouldn't more communities -especially those with volunteer emergency services- have the old style "take the call, go to the station, and turn the horn/call siren on, as they operated 30 or 40 years ago? We have volunteer Firemen and rescue workers in our Township, and I've always been curious and concerned that if something were to happen to the 911 dispatch system is set up today, wouldn't it be wise to have the old system in place as a back-up if need be?
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K1CJS
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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2011, 06:16:01 AM »

Incidents like you mention can happen--once in a blue moon.  Most of the time those agencies have a backup plan.  These days cell phones are used for some of these call ups through an automatic call system.  Since pagers were and are much more robust than a simple cell phone and cell phones aren't affected too much by these 'events', what do you think the chances of a failure are? 

Also--remember that pagers use digital signalling, and our long accepted truth is very simple--morse code can get through when nothing else can, and morse was the first truly 'digital' mode of communication.
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N9ZHW
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« Reply #2 on: April 16, 2011, 06:31:58 AM »

If I was aware of the chances I wouldn't be curious.  Smiley  I've just heard so much about this kind of thing. I mentioned somewhere in another post that my understanding of all the technical stuff isn't all that great. All I know is what I've seen about certain frequencies being totally messed up by sunspots -like the C.B. band, cell phones (which I have no interest in having) have dropped calls and times when they're hard to get a call through on.
"Morse code"....I take it that's technically what the tone signals I hear over the scanner are on the dispatch frequency? (I guess a big part of it is that I totally MISS hearing our fire horn go off like it used to when I was a kid.)  Smiley Franky, based on what I've seen since the pager system has been in use, the 911 dispatch isn't all that much faster considering the fact that, after the guys get to the station they still have to wait for the trucks to warm up and several other time consuming factors. My watch doesn't seem to indicate that use of the old horn system was any slower.

Incidents like you mention can happen--once in a blue moon.  Most of the time those agencies have a backup plan.  These days cell phones are used for some of these call ups through an automatic call system.  Since pagers were and are much more robust than a simple cell phone and cell phones aren't affected too much by these 'events', what do you think the chances of a failure are? 

Also--remember that pagers use digital signalling, and our long accepted truth is very simple--morse code can get through when nothing else can, and morse was the first truly 'digital' mode of communication.
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K1CJS
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« Reply #3 on: April 16, 2011, 06:49:30 AM »

CB band radios use AM modulation--which is VERY prone to noise interference.  Older style cell phones--analog type--were also prone to such interference, a lot less than CB, but still were prone.  These days, cell phones aren't 'analog' any longer, but digital, which removes all but the most severe interference.

Morse code is not the tones you hear on the scanner.  You WILL hear morse on the scanner--when stations are IDing themselves.  It is a series (group) of long and short tones--all the same frequency.

And you are right on one fact--dispatch isn't all that faster.  But it does eliminate that fire horn--which a lot of people these days object to.  The emergency personnel still have to go to their cars and get to the fire house, then wait until a couple more guys come in to get the trucks moving, not the 'warming up' of the trucks.  Most of the time a truck won't leave until there are three people to man it.

The one reason that the pager dispatch system is much better system is this--with the emergency personnel having their own receivers, chances are much better that they will hear the call signal.  Sometimes the fire horn wouldn't penetrate building walls, and some personnel wouldn't hear it, especially if their location was a distance from the fire horn location.  With the pager, they do hear the signal.  It's that simple.
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N9ZHW
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« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2011, 08:27:58 AM »

I don't know, but I definitely have to disagree on the hearing the horn vs. pagers. I know many volunteer firemen (I live right across the street from our station #1) and I know a lot of people have said that if they're working in the field or barn or around any noisy area, they could always hear the fire horn easier than their pager. (We used to live about 3 miles from station #1 and I used to be able to hear that thing like I was literally right next to it -even out in the barn with the milking system running I could still hear it!) I guess it depends on where the system is located too. Our fire horn (for some reason they still have it up and wired) is about 1/2 block from where the tornado siren is. (the fire horn is an intermittent on and off blare to keep it from being confused with the weather siren.) 1 of the guys at the station told me that the first thing they do when they get there is start the pumper because it has to warm up so it can move (as well as, of course, not being able to go out until there are 4 guys on it). There are actually a couple guys who said sometimes they don't answer night calls because they are so souns sleepers they don't hear the beeper. That horn sure woke them up though!  Smiley  I'll admit, as I said before, part of it is I just MISS hearing it.  Smiley  People don't complain about the constant noise of sirens, traffic and what not, but they cry about the fire horn....they wouldn't if it were THEIR house!  Smiley  ...*shakes head* city kids! (just teasing)
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K1CJS
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« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2011, 02:01:32 PM »

It just depends on where you are.  Yes, if you're outside, you'll hear the horn, but if you're inside--especially inside a building that is soundproofed, you're not going to be so lucky.  Also, like I said, if you're a few miles from that horn AND inside a building, you're more than likely SOL.  But the pager is a different story.  The range is much longer and soundproofed buildings don't stop radio waves.

These days, more volunteer firefighters don't work in the immediate vicinity of the fire barn--or even stay it its immediate vicinity.  These days, people are more mobile, not less, and therein is the advantage of the pager system.
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KI4SDY
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« Reply #6 on: April 16, 2011, 05:22:39 PM »

The volunteer fire department where I was growing up worked efficiently for decades with the fire siren located on the highest point in town. Shocked

They never lost a foundation!  Grin

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N9ZHW
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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2011, 12:01:10 PM »

I definitely have to agree with you on this one.  We actually had 2. Our whole township (consisting of 4 little towns) has a total of about 6000 people today yet. Thing is, the entire township is spread out about 12 miles at its longest point. We lived about 2 miles from 1 and about 5 miles from the other, so we got to hear them both pretty well. I'd still rarher have those today. I guess I just miss the sound.
The volunteer fire department where I was growing up worked efficiently for decades with the fire siren located on the highest point in town. Shocked

They never lost a foundation!  Grin


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KT4WO
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« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2011, 07:56:03 PM »

The horns may be fine in the "flat land"..Im on the local VFD and live less than 2 "air" miles away.
Ain't no way in hell I could hear that horn over that 3000foot mtn between us...lol

As for the "speed"... well,,, not all fire dept calls are fires,,,or require a fire truck.
Joe blow has a heart attack,,, Jim Beam on the local VFD has a AED in his front seat..Jim
does not need to drive to VFD.. he just goes strait to Joe's house,,,hooks up the AED(Shock,,Shock)
He LIVES.....All without a fire truck...
The old way(horn) he had to drive to the station JUST to find out WHERE the call is.

Sorry...horns dont hold water...lol

KT4WO
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N9ZHW
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2011, 05:15:59 AM »

Well, back then you had a seperate # for ambulance, fire, and police services, istead of everything going through 911. Every fireman in town had 2 phone lines, so if the "red phone", if you will, rang, he knew it wasn't the guy next door wanting to go fishing.  Smiley  I'm not arguing but from what I've noticed, at least in our Township, my watch's second hand says different. Years back, the guys were to the station and out with the trucks within 5 minutes. (The station is right across from our old school and our teacher would always get mad because all the kids would have to run over by the window and watch everytime the horn went off!) Now it seems like it takes at least DOUBLE that time to get everything rolling.
   Anywho, not to get this thread off topic, but I've heard and read so much about the chances of failure due to E.M.P. issues at times, or some bug along the way (granted the keyword is "chance" but to me if it were my house and family....) There was something on the Yahoo new briefs (or whatever they're called) not too long ago about this issue.
The horns may be fine in the "flat land"..Im on the local VFD and live less than 2 "air" miles away.
Ain't no way in hell I could hear that horn over that 3000foot mtn between us...lol

As for the "speed"... well,,, not all fire dept calls are fires,,,or require a fire truck.
Joe blow has a heart attack,,, Jim Beam on the local VFD has a AED in his front seat..Jim
does not need to drive to VFD.. he just goes strait to Joe's house,,,hooks up the AED(Shock,,Shock)
He LIVES.....All without a fire truck...
The old way(horn) he had to drive to the station JUST to find out WHERE the call is.

Sorry...horns dont hold water...lol

KT4WO
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K1CJS
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2011, 11:58:33 AM »

....Every fireman in town had 2 phone lines, so if the "red phone", if you will, rang, he knew it wasn't the guy next door wanting to go fishing.... 

And just how was that second phone line paid for?  Yes, I can see the chief and two or three top officers having a 'red' phone, but not every fireman.  The costs for those phones would have been sky high.

Horns can and do work, but pagers work more efficiently.  The fire horn in the town that I lived in was sufficient for alerts on one side of the tallest hill in the town, but not on the other.  Less than a mile away from the top of the hill--on the other side from the horn--the horn was barely heard, and that is if you had a window open or were outside.  The pagers that replaced the horn system, however, were easily activated miles away.  Just for the general information, the pager/radio antenna was on the same tower as the fire horn.
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N9ZHW
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« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2011, 06:25:00 AM »

From what I've heard from guys that were on the Dept. when we were kids, I believe the phone Co. set up the 2nd line either free or a discount paid for by taxes (considering the fact that 1 phone # was pary-lined and used by all members on the Dept. and used SOLEY for incoming emergency calls only... In fact, if I recall right, someone told me once it was set up so that you couldn't even use that line to call out.). They almost had to do it that way, so someone would be guaranteed to be home at any given time. (I can't imagine that by chance all 50 guys -25 on each Dept.- would all be away from home at the same time.)  Smiley It wouldn't have helped if our assistant/chief were working, etc. and no one was home to take the call.  Smiley  We had 2 horns, 1 at each station so they could be heard -even over the giant hill and quarry not too far behind station #1 here. I don't know, but somehow they managed to hear it in our Township regardless of terrain or weather when we were kids.
 
[/quote]

And just how was that second phone line paid for?  Yes, I can see the chief and two or three top officers having a 'red' phone, but not every fireman.  The costs for those phones would have been sky high.

Horns can and do work, but pagers work more efficiently.  The fire horn in the town that I lived in was sufficient for alerts on one side of the tallest hill in the town, but not on the other.  Less than a mile away from the top of the hill--on the other side from the horn--the horn was barely heard, and that is if you had a window open or were outside.  The pagers that replaced the horn system, however, were easily activated miles away.  Just for the general information, the pager/radio antenna was on the same tower as the fire horn.
[/quote]
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KD4LLA
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« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2011, 03:56:30 PM »

The folks that live in the largest town (pop 3,800) in my county complained that the sirens were still used -- so they now only use them for tornado's.

The fire trucks do not need any "warming up", as they are all inside a climate controlled bldg.  Also the trucks that have air brakes have a line run to them to keep the air pressure up so no  one needs to wait for the air to build up.

There were some "hooligans" a few years ago that managed to "hack" the tones needed to set off the sirens.  At any rate it only happened once or twice and now I understand the system is more "robust and resilient", in other words getting its signal digitally.

The Fire, EMS, and Police are way better equipped to handle calls today then they ever were.  Within a year I expect the local emergency folks to be on the MN ARMER system (800 mhz P25).  For any accident on the local I-90 section, the police and FD are both called and medivac helicopters are set to "auto launch".

Mike
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K1CJS
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« Reply #13 on: April 20, 2011, 04:15:31 AM »

From what I've heard from guys that were on the Dept. when we were kids, I believe the phone Co. set up the 2nd line either free or a discount paid for by taxes (considering the fact that 1 phone # was pary-lined and used by all members on the Dept. and used SOLEY for incoming emergency calls only... In fact, if I recall right, someone told me once it was set up so that you couldn't even use that line to call out.). They almost had to do it that way, so someone would be guaranteed to be home at any given time. (I can't imagine that by chance all 50 guys -25 on each Dept.- would all be away from home at the same time.)  Smiley It wouldn't have helped if our assistant/chief were working, etc. and no one was home to take the call.  Smiley  We had 2 horns, 1 at each station so they could be heard -even over the giant hill and quarry not too far behind station #1 here. I don't know, but somehow they managed to hear it in our Township regardless of terrain or weather when we were kids.

OK, that makes sense, but that must have been many, MANY years ago--back in the forties and fifties.  For sure that must have stopped with the breakup of Ma Bell.  After that, telephone service costs went through the roof, and multi-party lines like you spoke of all but disappeared.
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N9ZHW
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« Reply #14 on: April 20, 2011, 06:11:06 AM »

Not really. I'm only 39....don't remember the '50's at all!  Smiley but I remember every fireman in town by us having that 2nd line all hooked up to the same phone #. (My sister once told me that she accientally hit the "0" instead of the "8" once trying to call 1 of her friends, and someone answered "Harrison fire Dept."! That was in the '70's.) In fact, I think the city right next to our Township still has a (literally) red phone that only incoming calls can be received on. (What it's used for today I don't know seeing as how I don't think they use the 7-digit # for fires anymore.) There was a black button on the outside wall of Station 1 & 2 that was imprinted "alarm". I'm guessing that was the button they pushed to set the horn off, although when they still used it, I was too short to test my theory on if that's what it was for. JUST KIDDING!  Smiley (I told that to our Ass't. chief awhile ago, and he just laughed.)
   Maybe you're right on the phone Co.'s and costs. Because even 30 or 40 years ago communities were still tight knit, and would agree to such systems.

[/quote]
OK, that makes sense, but that must have been many, MANY years ago--back in the forties and fifties.  For sure that must have stopped with the breakup of Ma Bell.  After that, telephone service costs went through the roof, and multi-party lines like you spoke of all but disappeared.
[/quote]
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