The Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) is needing to upgrade their radio systems and hoping there will be room in the MD and Town of Bonnyville’s budget for the expense. Regional Fire Chief for BRFA, Brian McEvoy explains to upgrade the current equipment their department, MD and Town of Bonnyville are looking at a cost of $150,000.
Both the MD and Town are in budget discussion for 2016, and McEvoy hopes the municipalities are able to include the upgrades to the radio systems in their budgets. Money to pay for the system upgrades would be reflective of the population who uses BRFA,”it’s a combination of all of the members of the regional authority. Our system is designed not just for fire, but also for public safety officers, parks & recreation, transportation & utilities; all of the municipal government systems.”
The radio systems were engineered in the 1980’s and are becoming outdated, and although the system is somewhat simple to repair, there are challenges with the age of the equipment, explains McEvoy, “the biggest problem is everything is past its life-cycle. What that means is, you can’t get parts for it anymore. It’s like trying to buy a front spindle to a 1971 Buick LeSabre.”
There will be some major changes made to BRFA radio system, McEvoy explains, “we’re going from analog to digital and doing a complete upgrade to a trunk digital system.”
While many other fire departments and emergency services; such as EMS and RCMP, in neighbouring municipalities are opting to completely overhaul their systems with the government engineered, Alberta First Responder Radio Communications Systems (AFRRCS), Bonnyville is choosing to upgrade their current system. “That’s a system that was promised to us in 2009 and still is not operational.” Such a delay has caused BRFA to lose trust in the system; which is untested and years away from being completely functional, explains McEvoy, “we’re now going onto 2016 and they’ve just started to roll out test systems. They’ve taken the system to what it originally was, and cut it to about a third of the capacity of what was planned and they still haven’t released to the end users the governance model for AFRRCS.
“The problem we have is, it’s going to take [AFRRCS] five to seven years to get [all those issues] sorted out and we’re looking at a seven-year life-cycle of our upgraded radio system. So by the time we’ve hit the end of our life-cycle on the system we’re planning on going to, they should have all the kinks worked out of AFRRCS and we can look at going to that,” McEvoy explains BRFA plans.
One of the main selling points of AFRRCS is its ability to link into all emergency services through the same system, McEvoy explains BRFA will have a similar system. “We’re going to have that ability within our system by what’s referred to as an AFRRCS bridge. So that if we do get into a situation that we need to talk to emergency services outside of our regional authority, then we can bridge into AFRRCS. All that is, is a bridge that allows our radios to work on their systems.” Which is much like doing a three-way telephone call, explains McEvoy, “we all talk on our regular radio frequencies, and we can all hear each other.” The line would be completely secure.
The misconception with AFRRCS is that there will be day-to-day intercommunication available through the radio system, however this is not true. Intercommunication will only happen in cases of emergencies; such as a flood or major fire, where a tie-in is necessary to keep everyone in the loop. BRFA will be able to have access to the same services with the upgrades to their system.
A lot of the decision came down to cost, says McEvoy, “to upgrade our system, we’re going to be paying about $750 per handheld radio. To move to the AFRRCS it’s going to be about $3000 per handheld radio. Considering, we have 175 handheld radios that’s a large impact.” On top of that, there are no paging abilities on AFRRCS, without paging every fire fighter must carry a handheld radio, which adds to the cost. AFRRCS is only available for first responders, which would mean the MD would need to operate two radio systems to include parks & recreation and transportation & utilities.
“You have to look at the entire package,” says McEvoy, “for my community does this make operational sense?” At this time AFRRCS does not make sense for BRFA.
“The system that BRFA is proposing does everything AFRRCS does, but we control the system. We can put the system in a frequency range where the equipment is not so expensive.” McEvoy hopes the MD and Town recognize the need for the upgrades and put the costs in the budget. “It was presented last year, there was no disagreement with the need, it was just timing. [The MD & Town] did not have enough capital budget and push the discussion for the 2016 budget, which is not uncommon.”
Should BRFA be successful in securing the funding the system is a 10-16 month build from the time of approval. The goal is to have the radio system in place by the end of 2016, early 2017.