BRFA Prepares for AFRRC System

New radio communication system to improve fire response & service

Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) Deputy Chief, Jay Melville, presented details on the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) to Municipal District (MD) of Bonnyville Council on Wednesday. Melville says the department is looking to make the switch to the Provincially ran AFRRCS system because their current radio system is outdated and in need of repairs that are no longer offered.

“In previous years, we’ve had discussions about upgrading our radio communications systems; which is in need of upgrading. We’ve kinda changed directions, a bit, based on the costing and the funding that would entail for us to own our own communications system.” The AFRRCS is set up through the Alberta government, with the cost of the towers and back-end bared on the province. The front-end costs, such as purchasing enough radios for the entire BRFA crew would be bared on BRFA.

“AFRRCS is a province-wide public safety grade communications system, owned by the Government of Alberta,” Melville explains that construction of the radio system began in 2008. “They have 332 sites across the province.” The AFCCRS allows first responders to tap into each other and speak through different entities; for example Police, EMS and Fire can all speak on the same channel. As well as first responders who give aid to a neighbouring district; this was used with the fire in Fort McMurray. “The AFRRS will help participating first responders fully coordinate joint responders to emergency scenes,” syas Melville, who also notes that the system improves communication and reduces the cost of the radio system on municipalities. “The AFRRCS is available free of charge to first responders to access to the infrastructure owned by the Government of Alberta,” explains Melville.

Deputy Chief Melville says he has experience with the communication system, “I have personally used this system on my trip to Fort McMurray during the wildfire crisis.”

BRFA current radio system was installed in 1993 with a 15 year life cycle. Well over it’s life cycle, Melville explains there has been some issues, “in recent years we have been experiencing some key component failures with some components being obsolete. A lot of issues that we have is we have to replace parts that they don’t have anymore. It’s similar to having a computer on your desk that’s running Windows 10 and now you want to put Windows 95 on it; it’s not going to run.”

The system includes non-CSA approved towers, 10-60 metres in height, some of which are up to 40 years old. “These towers cannot support bigger antennas,” explains Melville who adds the department has loss of handheld functionality in many areas of the MD, “this is a safety issue for responders and community MD officers.” AFRRCS is not only for BRFA, it is for the MD; which includes the MD Community Peace Officers.

“Currently, BRFA has entered into an agreement with the Government of Alberta, Solicitor Generals Department for access to the network. Our cost forecasting for the breakdown of the Town and the MD of Bonnyville would be 82.8 percent funding coming from the MD and 18.2 percent from the Town,” says Melville. “This project may also be funded on the Alberta Community Partnership Grant and this grant would be expected to be a matching grant for 2017.”

The project is currently in Phase II, approval stage. BRFA needs approval from the MD and the Town to move forward with the system. The next Phase is securing the funding for AFRRCS, Melville notes that the County of St. Paul had recently switched to the AFRRCS system and received grant funding for some of the cost. The final stage would be tendering and purchase of the radio equipment; such as handheld radios.

The estimated cost of switching over to the system is $656, 454.00. The cost would come out of the 2017 BRFA budget.