Communications center provides radio for all services
A YARDSTICK FOR IMPROVEMENT
—Rochester Public information photo by Ernest Amato
The author, better known as “Ducky” to a host of friends in communications and fire circles, was the first licensed radio operator employed by Rochester and assisted in the installation and testing of the city’s first police transmitter in 1931. In 1952 when the radio division was created as a separate unit he was appointed chief radio technician and during 1957 was named superintendent of public safety radio.
A PIONEER in the use of public safety radio, the City of Rochester and the County of Monroe have received many benefits from this service over a period of nearly 30 years. Like most cities, the first use of mobile radio communication was made by the police. In September 1930, the Rochester City Council authorized the expenditure of $18,000 for the purchase of a one-way radio system. This was to include the installation of 22 mobile receivers in police cars and a 400-watt AM transmitter at the old No. 6 precinct on Bronson Avenue.
Radio was then very different from what it is today. There were no mobile transmitters to talk back to the station, and vehicular and atmospheric noise and instability provided many problems to both operators and technicians. This radio system was ready for operation late the following spring, and on June 8, 1931, the first official messages were transmitted to city police cars in Rochester. At the outset, service was provided only during the night hours, but after operators had been trained and some of the troubles eliminated, the service was placed on a 24-hour basis in mid-July.
During these early years of public safety radio, Election Day was celebrated in Rochester during the evening hours by spectacular fires. Numerous large bonfires in the city streets were touched off by teen-agers more interested in creating exciting fires than in the candidates elected. These many fires, sometimes in vacant buildings, often overtaxed the facilities of the fire department as communication with apparatus outside of the stations was nil.
Shared police frequencies
The first trial of radio in the Rochester fire service occurred as a result of these election celebrations. A police receiver was temporarily installed in a spare hose wagon to cruise the troubled areas. Though the communication was only to the apparatus, it proved to be very valuable and this roaming hose truck answered many alarms, besides extinguishing many fires spotted while cruising the city streets.
Radio for the fire services did not develop as rapidly as deserved, and those pioneer fire departments that did use it were forced to share police frequencies and usually police radio equipment as well. Not until after World War II did the Federal Communications Commission receive enough fire service requests for frequencies to justify allocation of a very small number of channels for fire use only.
These channels were limited to use by cities having a population of over 250,000. However, the ice was broken and the FCC received so many applications from fire departments, many from smaller or less populated areas, that more consideration was given to the needs of the fire services and a reasonable number of channels in the high and very high frequency bands were assigned for the use of all fire departments without restriction as to population. At about this same time the advent of frequency modulated radio equipment brought quieter and more reliable equipment to the public safety services.
In Rochester, immediate plans were prepared to replace the old amplitude modulated two-way police radio which the fire chief, deputy chiefs and all battalion chiefs had made use of for three years.
Higher location for base station
The necessity of using very high frequencies required that a new and higher location for the base station be chosen to provide sufficient coverage. The city was very fortunate to have available an excellent location overlooking both the city and general county area. Long use and tests as a receiver pick-up point had shown that the site at the Cobbs Hill reservoir possessed unsurpassed features for this purpose.
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When the department of public safety radio center was opened in 1951, the long-sought fire radio system became a reality with two 250-watt base stations transmitting and receiving on frequencies of 154.13 and 154.31 megacycles.
The only mobile units at the time were in the chief’s car, the deputy chief’s and the battalion chief’s vehicles, but a good start had been made not only for a city fire radio system but also the nucleus of a countywide fire radio system which was to come very shortly. Soon both city and county systems began to expand rapidly as the possibilities of the systems were beginning to be realized and exploited by the fire officials.
Newly appointed Commissioner of Public Safety Kenneth C. Townson was an ardent believer in good communications and within a month or two, 50 station receivers were purchased for use in the firehouses and offices of the fire bureau. All alarms were thereafter dispatched by radio resulting in saving of time and elimination of unnecessary slides to the apparatus floor by the firemen at night. Soon after, a contract was awarded for the purchase of mobile radio units for all vehicles of the Rochester Fire Bureau.
Police originally in control
When the radio division was established in 1931, the radio operators and technicians were placed under the supervision of the police bureau as only police radio equipment was in use. As the use of radio expanded in the fire bureau, water department, highway department, forestry division and other city departments, it was natural and advantageous to turn to the police radio division to make use of its more than 20 years experience in local mobile communications. The radio division gladly provided all the assistance it could under the circumstances and a police bureau budget.
In 1952, to facilitate the work of the radio division in serving the fire bureau and other departments and divisions of city services, it was made a separate division of the department of public safety with a superintendent responsible for its operation. With its own budget, and working directly under the commissioner, the efficiency of the radio division has increased to the benefit of all the departments served.
The division has a staff consisting of a superintendent, assistant superintendent and 10 radio technicians with first or second-class licenses.
The technicians install, repair and service all electronic equipment and also act as dispatchers for all town, village and county police calls. They also handle all intercounty fire and police radio communications.
A radio truck is available at all hours. This panel truck is equipped with six working two-way radio units operating in the different systems, as well as a public address system, portable units and other equipment. It responds to all multiple-alarm fires and other serious emergencies and acts as a communications center for the various services at the scene.
A program is presently well under way to replace most of the older radio equipment now in use. All new units will contain two-frequency receivers which will permit the complete separation of the city and county radio systems during serious emergencies when radio traffic is extremely heavy.
Using the radio division to plan, install and maintain all city radio equipment has worked out very satisfactorily with the long experience of the personnel available to all departments of city government and county when requested. This has prevented repetition of earlier problems and provided material, supplies and trained technicians on duty around the clock with preference being given to fire and police equipment.
For many years Monroe County has operated a fire service mutual aid system employing the Rochester communications center as its dispatching headquarters. Upon its availability, the advantages of radio for such purposes were immediately apparent and a movement was begun to extend the services to a county system.
All apparatus radio-equipped
The Monroe County radio system in its early days was questioned by some authorities in the county fire services. However, the obstacles were overcome and the system has grown steadily until today all fire apparatus is radio-equipped. In addition, practically every volunteer company has its own base station operating on a frequency of 154.31 me for communicating with its vehicles as well as with the radio center and the fire alarm headquarters.
Selective calling units are installed at the fire alarm headquarters and the radio center and are being used extensively to alert all companies by radio in the county outside of the City of Rochester. All county and city school districts and most large manufacturing plants can also be alerted in the event of enemy attack or other serious emergency.
Many hundreds of county firemen and some city fire officers are equipped with special alerting receivers and can be called from their individual company stations or from the city transmitters. At the present rate of growth all volunteer firemen in the county will be provided with these effective units within a relatively short time. The use of alerting sirens in crowded communities will not be necessary during the night hours if the Volunteers can be summoned without waking the other people in the area, providing proper approval is received.
In mutual aid it is often necessary for Monroe County fire companies located near the county borders to work with fire companies in adjacent counties which employ frequencies of 46.10 and 46.22 megacycles. As all Monroe County companies operate on the high band, a 60-watt base station operating on the low band has been installed at the radio center to furnish direct communication with these stations and companies in the adjoining counties. If a serious emergency occurred in Rochester or Monroe County, the adjacent responding companies would have radio contact as they moved into the city or county.
In addition, calls for assistance by these counties have been considered and a selective call unit is installed on the low-band station receiver so that a warning bell can be operated at the radio center from the counties that have need of assistance.
Monitor receivers at the radio center are in full-time operation on the frequencies of the state police, Rochester Gas & Electric Corporation, Eastman Kodak Co. and many other services. Radio contact can be made with these organizations through crossband operation as they all monitor the radio center transmissions or can be alerted through the use of selective call.
The Rochester radio center is somewhat unique in the communication field and there are many features that may be of interest to fire chiefs. In addition, an excellent view of the city and surrounding county can be obtained from the observation platform of the radio center building. During the annual conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in September, visitors will be most welcome to inspect the facilities and discuss radio matters with the chief