Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations,
Updated July 2011
Provide and maintain a reliable VHF radio communications service for Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations personnel throughout the entire province of British Columbia.
The Ministry of Forests,Lands & Natural Resource Operations, Information Management Group, Radio Operations, provides reliable two way VHF radio communications throughout the Province of British Columbia. Ministry staff use their handheld and vehicle mounted radios for "safety check-in's" when working in the forest, fighting forest fires, for passing information back to the District Office and other personnel working elsewhere in the district, and to call for assistance.
The ruggedness of the Province of British Columbia presents a formidable challenge to provide reliable year round communications to people working in the field. At this time, approximately 85% of the Province is adequately covered by the Provinces radio network. The network consists of about 331 mountain top repeater sites, arranged into district systems, about 100 base stations and 6 Regional Fire Centers, each with multiple stations. As the network is always undergoing changes approximate figures are given. Most of the mountain top Repeater Sites are solar powered which restricts the type of equipment that we can use. Also the transmitters are limited to 5 watts. Our equipment is very reliable so failures are usually caused by natural forces such as: ice and snow blocking the solar panels and lightning strikes that destroy equipment.
During Fire Season (April to October), the radio network is heavily used by Wildfire Management Branch, to assist Fire Fighters in locating fires, directing equipment and personnel. It is also used to direct Air Tankers on the fire.
Radio Operations & Engineering, maintains all of
the MoFLNRO radio network equipment. The cost per user of this network,
is quite high and would probably not be financially viable in the Private
Sector, but is necessary for safety and exchange of information for MoFLNRO and
other Provincial Government Personnel. Occasionally nature destroys a
site, as happened to Kellough. See Photos in the Northern Interior Region, Prince Rupert area. Repairing
or relocating a site also adds to the operating cost. Satelite failures of Globalstar and Iridium systems have made satphones unreliable. Our network the only reliable, province wide wireless communications system that serves all areas of the province.
The next round of narrowbanding
is scheduled to begin in 2012. We anticipate that our radio network will
be changing over from analog to digital at this time.
Ministry of Forests Radios
Standard issue Forest Service portable radio is now the Icom
F30GT. The Icom F3 is being reserved for Fire Stock and
Firefighters only. While the F3 has only 32 channels, it can run
up to 16 hours on its AA battery pack. MInistry mobile (truck)
radios have been replaced by the Kenwood TK780 and TK7180.
Ministry issued radio equipment
is serviced and maintained by Radio Operations & Engineering staff.
Other Ministries and Private Contractors, who provide services to
and have need, can apply to access the radio network by submitting the form FS
1109 (Application for Access to the
MoFR Radio System). This application should be submitted to the Forest District Manager or Fire Center Manager.
Radio Repeater Sites
VHF radio is "line of site" communications. If the person that you want to contact is behind a hill or in the next valley then you need to transfer your radio signal through a repeater to contact him / her. Our repeaters are linked into Ministry of Forests, Lands & Natural Resource Operations District systems and Fire Centers. This works like a "Party Line" and anyone in the district can receive and return your call. We use "call signs" to connect with the correct person.
This is an aluminum housing that is used in some locations.
Sometimes we have to find it before we can fix it! This is a Comshel (Communication Shelter) type repeater housing. The Radio Tech's are digging their way down to the door just to get inside to repair the radio repeater. Hard work at high altitude, plus the possibility of being stuck there if the weather changes quickly.
Fire Repeaters (designed and built by Radio Operations personnel) are quick deploy units that are used to temporarily enhance radio communications for fire fighters, where coverage in the area is poor. They can be linked into the MoFR network; or when additional radio channels are required, to work as a stand alone unit. It consists of the radio repeater (receiver, transmitter and duplexer) in the orange box, magnetic mount antenna (on top of orange box), battery (in silver box) and solar panel (to charge the battery during the day). The duplexer allows the radio to transmit on one frequency and receive on another frequency at the same time. See photo of a Fire Repeater in operation near Westbank (August 2003) in the Southern Interior Region (Nelson). We now have two types of Fire Repeater. The type A can be linked to others of the same "A" type to form a small independent radio network. However the Type A Repeater cannot be linked into the MoFLNRO radio network. The type B or "Rainbow" Fire Repeater uses Ministry colour channels and can be linked into the District Network and the Fire Centers.
A typical fire repeater setup where there are no trees.
Maintenance and repair are vital to keep the system working reliably. This includes environmental testing of repeater equipment to confirm its operation between minus 40 degrees C. and plus 60 degrees C. (before installation or after repairs.) When you are working out in the back country, sometimes alone, fighting forest fires and need to communicate or call for help, a fully functioning radio network is a must have service.
These are the people who service and maintain the B.C. Forest Service Radio Network. You can tell by the smiles that they are true professionals and proud of their work.
Editors Note: The next round of
narrowbanding will require replacing our analog equipment with digital.
While this will be expensive, it will also allow the passing of data without interfering with quality of the
voice transmissions. Something that we are unable to do now. The addition of transferring data on our
network opens up a world of additional possibilities for us.