Radio Frequency Allocations—A Problem
Testimony before the Federal Communications Commission concerning the allocation of new fire service radio frequencies has brought into the open some interesting points of view. The pressure brought to bear on the F.C.C. by all parties concerned with radio frequencies is extremely heavy and is based upon the assumption that each interested group must fight for itself with the chips of the battle lying where they fall. Fortunately representatives of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Municipal Signalmen’s Association keep a close watch on the proceedings and are well prepared to advocate and defend the fire service interests and positions at all times.
In one recent instance the chairman of the American Municipal Association’s Communication and Radio Committee expressed doubt that the proposed fire service assignment of 16 new frequencies in the 152162 mc band and two additional frequencies in the 42-50 me band was necessary. One of the channels in each frequency block would be earmarked for intersystem mutual aid command purposes. In this regard, the committee questioned the frequency of communications use of the existing bands in its presentation, arguing against the proposed allocation.
The A.M.A. committee chairman reported that monitoring of an active fire frequency in the Detroit metropolitan area did not reveal any interference beyond that of a nuisance nature to the licensees of the particular frequency. He noted that 21 base stations and over 130 mobile units presently use the one channel. Because of judicious use of the facility, proper coding and strict radio discipline enforced by the fire chiefs concerned, this simplex system on a single frequency was stated by him to be suitable for the area. He contended that mutual aid is available and a separate frequency for this purpose would be redundant. The committee chairman then asked that the frequencies involved be allocated instead to the local government radio service or to other categories in the public safety radio classification which might have need of them.
The use of the Detroit area example by the American Municipal Association as an indication that additional fire radio frequencies are unnecessary seems to strengthen rather than weaken the stated fire service requirements. At the same time it points up the wisdom of channel-splitting requirements by the F.C.C. Fire officials are well aware of the limitations imposed by the usable radio spectrum and the present state of the art in this method of communications. Because of these reasons their requests for consideration to the F.C.C. have been very reasonable in the past and geared to the acquisition of equipment by the various fire departments in the field. It is not difficult to forecast that future requirements will strain even the present proposed additions to the current channels.
Up to 1959 more than 4,000 fire service radio licenses had been issued by the F.C.C. Many of those are in the nature of a single coordinated system which covers many communities and do not show the total number of individual fire departments operating in a net. A conservative estimate indicates that over 5,000 fire departments now employ radio in their everyday operations and many of these intend to expand in the near future. When this is contrasted against an estimate of over 20,000 fire departments presently organized, each of whom may be expected to use radio in their operations within the foreseeable future, it is not difficult to recognize that even the mere handful of present and prospective frequencies will at best meet only the barest minimum requirements for the service.
The A.M.A. argument concerning enforcement of good radio discipline on the part of fire chiefs is certainly a unique twist of logic. If carried to the ultimate extreme, it would place the Federal Communications Commission in the ridiculous position of penalizing the fire service because it observes the commission’s regulations regarding the use of the airwaves.
It would then follow that the proposed frequencies be given to other services which could be expected to violate these same rules or be less meticulous in the observation of them. Any action of this nature would, in effect, make the fire service a scapegoat of their own regard for efficient operations in their efforts to safeguard the lives and property of this nation’s citizens. It is inconceivable that the Federal Communications Commission can give serious consideration to such objections as it attempts to reach a final decision.