Hams to the rescue

Local hams in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta keep local emergency services online.


A failure to communicate…

By Bryan Passifiume
Reporter, Crowsnest Pass Promoter
Friday April 11, 2008

It was a tense weekend for emergency workers as equipment failures brought the Crowsnest Pass emergency radio system to its knees, causing the municipality’s paramedics and firefighters to rely on cellular phones to communicate with dispatchers.

The failure occurred on Thursday afternoon, when a repeater near Hartell Ridge failed, cutting off local workers from their dispatchers in Black Diamond. Members from the Crowsnest Pass Amateur Radio Club worked throughout the weekend to repair the equipment, finally restoring service Monday evening.

Emergency communications in the Crowsnest Pass follows a complex and often problematic path from the Crowsnest Pass to dispatchers in Black Diamond. Communications are routed from the main repeater site on top of the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, and transmitted to a tower in Burmis. From there, a VHF radio link transmits the signal about 145 kilometres north to another tower near Hartell, which is then transmitted to the dispatch centre at Black Diamond Hospital.

These multiple and sometimes long distance hops periodically cause problems, as a single issue between any of these radio sites can cut emergency workers off from their dispatcher.

These issues, along with reception issues, will be solved once a new radio repeater is installed at the Amateur Radio Society’s repeater site on Ironstone Mountain, but that can’t take place until the snow melts enough to allow access.

According to members of the amateur radio society, who are generally responsible for maintenance of the radio system, the new repeater system is ready to go, it’s just a matter of getting access to Ironstone Mountain.

Paramedics had to rely on dispatchers calling them on cellular phones in order to receive calls. According to Crowsnest Pass EMS director Troy Linderman, the failure of the radio system cost the service close to $300 in extra airtime. As well, as EMS currently has a usage contract with Rogers, crews weren’t able to get a signal in some parts of the Pass, specifically Frank and north of the community.
According to Paramedic Nick Spencer, crews were delayed by several minutes as dispatchers attempted to reach crews who were on duty to assign incoming calls.

“It delays our response time because dispatch has to call us on our cell phones,” Spencer told The Promoter. “Sometimes, due to coverage issues, they had to call us three or four times before they could get through.”
Even though the delay in responding to incidents didn’t cause any serious incidents, emergency workers are concerned that repeated failures of the system could cause serious problems down the road.
“It slows everything down and we’re all about speed,” Spencer added. “In an emergency, every second counts.”

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1 Response to Hams to the rescue

  1. Don from B.C. says:

    I know a bit about that region and probably the biggest problem they had was due to the time of year. Even in April, that region can still have a lot of mountaintop snow which would prevent a landing to repair the repeater. The EMS services should’ve taken care to set up multiple radio paths and use multiple links to keep services in that region at least partially alive.

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