Sharing of Radio Frequencies Due
During the recently held 69th Annual Conference of the International Municipal Signal Association at Atlantic City, the prospect of the fire service sharing some of its radio frequencies with other services was broached. Speaking before the lead-off radio session, Federal Communications Commission, Public Safety Division Chief John J. McCue, stated that the FCC’s rule-making activities during the past 12 months had established a definite trend toward frequency sharing as the ultimate goal for use of presently available land mobile frequencies. He cited some areas of the fire service as vulnerable to such approach.
Mr. McCue pointed out that fire radio service channel usage varies throughout the country generally according to population, but that use in populated areas tends to be heavy on certain frequencies and light on others. He cited specific usage of one frequency (37.10 mc. with 800 base stations and 4,700 mobiles) in the 25-42 mc. band. He pointed out that of the 14 additional frequencies provided by the most recent channel-splitting in this segment, only one channel was being used (33.52 mc. with one base and 60 mobiles).
He then urged the IMSA to update its communications systems, establish new systems in congested areas, and establish firm plans to show frequency needs. Mr. McCue went on to suggest that the IMSA consider employment of these frequencies by another public safety user—the local government radio service—if new plans do not include the unused frequencies mentioned. He suggested the local government service as one which is compatible with the fire service.
It is difficult to argue with McCue’s logic. Based on the FCC’s previous warnings to all radio licensees of “Use or Lose,” the fire service must be prepared to share with others whose needs are pressing. The radio frequency spectrum is fixed by natural laws and the state of the art. Fighting for a place in this limited area are hundreds of thousands of users.
According to the FCC, as of August 1, 1964 there were 884,000 station licenses issued in this country with over 2 million associated mobile transmitting units. Of these, 9,563 were fire base station, 16,698 police, and 6,385 local government stations. Many fire base station licenses are issued to counties and cover all fire departments within an area. It is estimated at this time the above licenses cover approximately 15,000 fire departments.
From this it is evident the fire service will have little room to argue that it should retain exclusive right to frequencies it isn’t presently using. Recently there has been much clamor for ejection of television from channels not presently being employed in the UHF spectrum. How can the fire service join in such demands when it is not employing a number of frequencies presently allocated to it?
The use of radio is growing daily in all forms of business and industry, and the pressure for spectrum space grows with it. Up to now most demands for additional room have been directed at the commercial entertainment area. However, as the FCC study has shown, the fire service is vulnerable to the same demands. The suggestions of Mr. McCue may be a bitter pill to swallow but the justice of them cannot be argued. It is far better to accept local government sharing, which includes some fire departments as well as police and other municipal services, than to have to share with other services completely foreign to our interests and needs.
The whole matter points up once again the glaring weakness of the fire service as an entity to the pressures of our way of life. Because it is an autonomous local service, ease of coordination has always been plagued by differences of technical and political opinion, not to mention the provincial thinking which pervades all of us, nor differences of local governmental control. All of the various fire service organizations have attempted to bridge the many gaps that separate us, but to little avail. The International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Municipal Signal Association have joined forces many times in the past to assist in overcoming our problems. The success they have achieved is significant but apparently not sufficient.
Because of these weaknesses the fire service must now be prepared to accept the inevitable. Radio has become one of the most important tools in our efforts to better protect the people. Its effects have been electrifying in many respects and can be expected to grow in importance as we increase our scientific knowledge. However, we cannot stand in the way of progress. Unless we are prepared to make full use of our rights in the frequency spectrum at once, sharing with others is inevitable.