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VHF Radios Key to Interoperability in Boulder Fire (9/14/10)
By Michelle Zilis
A Boulder County (Colo.) Sheriff’s Office official said its analog conventional VHF radio system allowed responders from local, state and federal agencies to interoperate without problems during the destructive Fourmile Canyon Fire last week.

The fire spread across 6,427 acres and destroyed 169 structures before it was 100 percent contained Monday evening. More than 900 firefighters from at least 35 local, regional and national agencies worked to contain the fire that began Sept. 6, according to the Boulder County Office of Emergency Management website.

Operating on the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office analog conventional VHF radio system, first responders were able to successfully communicate with one another. “We were very pleased with the performance of our VHF radio system,” said Division Chief James Smith, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. “It worked as expected and as it has worked for us in other major events.”

The VHF system is shared throughout the county and allows fire, law, EMS and public-works responders to talk with each other on the shared channels. The system has been in operation for many years, Smith said.

The county is an associate member/user of the statewide 800 MHz digital trunked public-safety radio system, the Consolidated Communications Network of Colorado (CCNC). However, the statewide network was used only on an interoperable basis. “We’ve found that the 700/800 MHz digital trunked radio system provided insufficient coverage in the area of the fire,” Smith said.

Agencies that responded and primarily operate on CCNC, such as the Colorado State Patrol, were given VHF cache radios from the Boulder network. Many federal agencies responding used field-programmable VHF radios for mutual aid. “We can quickly program all of these radios with shared frequencies,” Smith said.

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