Radios: On the Air

The California Chapter of SPAAMFAA holds a non-exclusive FCC license to broadcast on the "itinerant business channel" frequency, 151.625, a low band channel and a UHF pair anywhere within the state of California. What this means is that we are permitted to broadcast on this frequency, but so are a select few other California businesses and organizations. Sometimes, but not often, we are broadcasting when one of the other licensees of this frequency is also broadcasting. It is a good thing we are not in Akron, Ohio, where we would be competing with the famed Akron-based fleet of Goodyear Blimps for use of this frequency.

Our call sign on the 151.625 frequency is WNHX458. ALL radios on this and the UHF frequencies MUST be narrowband units. If you are not SURE your radio is narrowband, it probably isn't and cannot be used. Our lowband frequency is not subject to this requirement but radios, especially handhelds, are difficult to find.

Many of our chapter members in northern California, and a smaller number in southern California, have installed radios on this frequency in their antique fire engines. This comes in handy when we caravan together to various vintage fire apparatus events, as well as for communicating at the event itself. The Crown Firecoach Club is also licensed on this channel.

When broadcasting on this frequency, we all identify ourselves according to the city, and the engine or ladder company, that originally used our rig. So if you hear Sunnyvale Engine 5 calling San Jose Engine 2, this is not a mutual-aid call to a large fire. It is only chapter member Leonard Williams on his 1965 IH/Coast pumper, reaching out to member Danny Barlogio on his 1958 American LaFrance pumper.

One example of how we use this frequency, is when we stage a public demonstration of one of our chapter's famous "multiple-alarm responses," usually under the direction of chapter founder Leonard Williams. We set up a simulated fire or sometimes we even set fire to a makeshift out-house, or set smoke-bombs in a shed. Then, depending on how many of our members are available to participate, a "multiple alarm" respond to extinguish the blaze. Inevitably, our "working fire" quickly gets out of control, and more pumpers are summoned, along with a Chief. The chief sizes-up the situation, and sends for more pumpers, and so on, until we all have a chance to respond Code-3 (red lights and sirens), stretch hose lines, hook up to a hydrant or draft from a lake, and throw water around. On a good day, when enough of our members are present, this can run up to a full five-alarm response! Sometimes, even ladder trucks and snorkels get to respond to these imaginary (or real) fires. What does all of this have to do with our two-way radios? We use the radios to coordinate who parks where before this demonstration, who responds from which direction on which alarm, and where they set up when they arrive at the "working fire". We could not do this demonstration nearly as efficiently without our two-way radios.

Many of our chapter members also have portable, hand-held two-way radios on this frequency. That allows us to wander around at events and see what is going on, while still keeping us in touch with our base of operations, with those watching our rigs, and with each other.

For more information about California SPAAMFAA's two-way radio system, or to register your radio with the chapter, contact our Chapter President:

Will Radcliffe
P.O. Box 2598
Menlo Park, CA 94026-2598
(650) 367-8794