Philadelphia Gets New Communication System
TV system, more radio channels included in $310,000 package
A $310,000 communications system was recently put in operation by the Philadelphia Fire Department. The system, which includes new radio channels, replacement of mobile transceivers and base stations, and closed circuit television equipment, was the result of a survey of the department’s communications needs by a consulting firm last year.
The new radio system provides three duplex channels for communication between the dispatcher and mobile units, utilizing a total of six frequencies. The three duplex fire radio bands are the normal band; emergency band; and rescue band.
All radios have a selector switch, offering the option of F1 or F2. F1 is the normal operating frequency for all apparatus with the exception of rescue companies, where F1 is the rescue band. F2 is the emergency band in all vehicles, including rescue companies.
All transmissions relating to extraalarm fires, personnel injured on firegrounds, civilian fatalities, apparatus accidents, civil disturbances, etc., are made on the emergency band. Rescue squads use their band for receiving alanns, reporting conditions, etc.
Thus, each mobile unit is able to choose between two of the channels. Fire fighting units have a choice of the normal and emergency bands, and rescue squads can use the rescue or emergency channels.
Base stations linked
The radio system consists of base station equipment installed in the fire alarm room at City Hall in downtown Philadelphia, in the Roxborough section, and at Levick and Harbison Streets in northeast Philadelphia. The base stations are connected by microwave and/or land lines. Each location has dual transmitters and receivers for the normal, emergency and rescue bands. Thus, they can operate independently as a citywide base station for all frequencies.
Each of the three duplex fire radio channels has a separate console, but they can be interconnected, with a “transmitter-on” light indicating which channel is in use.
Built into each console is a selective calling circuit for radio paging units. Key department personnel have been issued these units with an assigned number. When headquarters wants to get in touch with a member, the console operator activates the paging system and a coded signal sounds in his receiver. The person called will then reply via the personal reply transmitter, which does not require coding for its operation.
Radio receivers have been placed in the homes of the deputy chiefs, assistant chiefs and commissioners.
Included with the new equipment is a pair of recorders with nine-channel capability. Eight of these are used for radio and telephone recording, and the ninth records the time from a timetape recorder.
PA system improved
Philadelphia has been using a voicealarm system for dispatching apparatus for 20 years. This is a public address system connected to each firehouse by city-owned telephone lines. Now, new equipment has been placed in all stations to renew and expand the service of the PA dispatching facilities.
First, all the old PA systems were replaced by new equipment. A second PA amplifier was added to carry all fire department radio messages, and through the use of a feedback, all transmissions from mobile apparatus to the dispatcher are now heard in the stations.
As all first-due engine companies must give a preliminary report on arrival and the battalion chief follows this with his report, this facility alerts personnel in fire stations as to what is taking place on the fireground. It helps officers plan their action in the event a local alarm goes to a box alarm or a box goes to an extra alann.
Additional walkie-talkie equipment was purchased and all chief officers and their aides are now equipped with two-way radios. In addition, extra sets are on hand in the communications vehicle and can be supplied for use in the field.
Directive for using system
Deputy Chief Joseph J. Cody, department communications committee chairman, was directed to prepare an operational directive governing the use of the new system. Assisted by Battalion Chiefs Joseph Gindele and Jack Fix and Chief Dispatcher Charles Pue, they prepared “Operational Directive No. 6,” which was approved by William J. Eckles, deputy fire commissioner of fire fighting forces. The system was placed in service last March 20.
As outlined in the directive, companies are limited to calling fire radio on the F1 band, whereas chief officers may speak directly to companies. On the F2 band, companies are permitted to call other companies directly. Another innovation is in the numbering of units. In a two-piece engine company. such as E-24, the first piece carries the company number and the second piece has a I prefix, making it E-124 for radio procedure. This enables radio or anyone else listening to know exactly which apparatus is transmitting.
Radios were installed on all pumpers, at the control panels, complete with microphone, speaker and 10-watt amplifier housed in a waterproof box. This enables all pump operators to hear conversations between the chief and radio or other units and be aware of the situation at all times.
Closed circuit television
Of special interest is the new closed circuit television system for use on the fireground. This system, designed by General Electric to Philadelphia’s specifications, includes two portable Diamond Model ST2 Vidicon cameras, each with 1,000 feet of cable. These cameras are capable of picking up a picture if there is 1 foot candlepower of light available. Fire department light trucks can provide sufficient illumination to insure good pictures at any time.
The control panel is in the department’s communications vehicle. All the camera operator has to do is point the camera in the direction he is told via a telephone link with the command unit. Lens opening, focus, etc., are controlled from the communications vehicle,
A monitor split screen shows the picture that each camera is picking up and enables the operator to select the picture he wishes to transmit to the video recorder or, if he wishes, by using two recorders he can capture the action taking place on each camera. The recorder can furnish an instant playback of any fireground action.
The chief of department’s aide has a small Panasonic TV monitor which he carries with him, enabling the chief to view the picture being recorded at the moment or request a switch to the other camera.
By strategically placing the cameras, it is possible for the chief of department to view an operation from all sides on the monitor screen in the communication car or on his personal monitor and to coordinate the fireground operation. The videotape can be used for a playback at critiques and training sessions.
The videotape equipment is also being used to make training programs. TV Station WflYY, Channel 12 in Philadelphia, has made a half hour available to the fire department at 6:30 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Fire Commissioner James J. McCarey inaugurated this series on October 7 in a program aimed at the public which stressed the importance of fire prevention. McCarey outlined Philadelphia’s Year Round Fire Prevention effort (FIRE ENGINEERING, August 1968) and how this activity culminated in the Fire Prevention Week displays, parades, banquets, etc., and he invited the listening audience to visit their nearest fire station during this week.
On October 13, the first training session telecast was on forcible entry, produced at the Fire Training College under the direction of Deputy Chief James Farrell and Lieutenants Theodore Domzalski, Edward Ryan, James Barron, and Anthony DiPasquale. Other training tapes produced for future telecasts cover ventilation, hose care and maintenance, hose streams, ladder practices, special equipment, and special apparatus. Captain Calvert Krutsinger, of the fire prevention division and a former instructor at the Fire College, is the “voice of the Philadelphia Fire Department” for these programs.
Many suburban companies in the Philadelphia area have expressed an interest in these programs and have urged their members to watch them in their homes.
As an extension of its radio and TV advances, the Philadelphia Fire Department is entering the computer world. The department’s computer committee, under the direction of Deputy Chief James Skala, includes Battalion Chiefs John Hicks and Harry Knorr, Captains James McDevitt and Bernard O’Connor, and Lieutenants George Pecknoe and Dennis Camp. These officers are gaining experience in running an accident prevention program.
Accident data on cards
All accident reports go to Deputy Chief John Hammes in charge of safety. Hammes sends the reports to the computer committee, which puts the data on keypunch cards. These cards are stored for a monthly readout report and for compilation of the quarterly and annual reports.
The committee is working with programmers to computerize all information relative to fire boxes. This will be known as a “fire information center.” Each box will be indexed for data about the height, depth, age and contents of buildings, as well as facts on hydrants, water supply, standpipes, sprinklers, elevators—all the information gained by firemen and recorded on the vital building information form during the block check program.
Information bank planned
It is also planned to have an information bank on chemicals, gases, oils, flammable liquids, hazardous materials, etc. At a major fire or upon request from an officer in charge, the necessary information would be relayed from the center.
Philadelphia has updated its communication system to a point where the department believes it to be equal to any in the country today, and the department is looking to improvements through more extensive use of computers.