An FM pileup

Last night was a big drill night for us on the Heyworth fire department. We have a large gas terminal located in our fire district. A pipeline runs to a tank farm where fuel products are stored and then loaded onto semi-trailers for transportation to other storage areas, gas stations, or private tanks. We had the terminal owners and three other mutual aid departments participating in the drill.

Communications is almost always a problem when you get that many people on scene. Radio communications become clogged as 10 apparatus arrive on scene. “Where do you want us? Send me this….Can you go here?” These message repeat over and over, all the while the firefighters performing work are unable to get back to command. Why is this a problem? Because everyone wants to hear all traffic, we stay on ONE frequency. You’ve got 10 trucks and 25+ people all trying to talk on one VHF FM analog frequency.

If only more of our members were hams, maybe we wouldn’t have to discuss why talking over other transmissions doesn’t work. Or why putting 25 people on a single channel is not a good idea if we expect two-way communications between more than 5 of them! Nothing like a good ‘ole FM pileup to make you want to smack your head against the wall. If nothing else, maybe the single command officer trying to work the pileup WHILE managing the event would realize that we need to work differently.

Michael Brown, KG9DW, is a regular contributor to and writes from Illinois, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “An FM pileup”

  • Richard. kd4gnx:

    Been there, done that! We had county wide agency training with the usual suspects. We ( unfortunately) use nexedge, managed to use vtac freq for the exercise. If all radios had been programmed with the “busy channel function” this would eliminate “doubling” to a point. 7 scenarios (1 at a time) but still the confusion…
    It worked out but this will be brought up. In the long run, it will improve comms.
    We as hams, have to educate as we move along. And then there’s plain talk. With many agencies outside your jurisdiction, you have different meanings for the “10 codes”. They go to nims classes, but don’t use it properly.
    Let us educate!

  • KD4RN:

    And also…. be taken seriously.

  • Kc9LOX:

    It all breaks down to Command system NIMS 101 education and daily usage. Emergency responders paid/volunteer have several ground tactical channels to use, and with no education nor drills to work on this, it all goes to the wayside and when the “Poop hits the fan” situation , the information tunnel gets overloaded and clogged.

    Thank goodness this was a drill. It can be a learning experience among neighboring departments from the command top on down on how communication discipline has to be used. Listen and thinking before hollering on the radio. To me a scene can be like a dance, If the 2 partners are in sync the dance is smooth and flowing. One partner gets out of sync, it could describe disaster. It starts at the top of the command structure to get the scene organized and a well oil running machine. We as repsponders have the frequencies to utilize, but it has to be utilized to the scene’s main response goal to the fullest.

  • Michael:

    Actually, 25 people on a frequency is easy, if you set up a net and have a controller. You could have way more than 25 that way.

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