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In an effort to solve the dilemma presented by the incompatibility of public safety radio systems, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) has launched a pilot program in Maine aimed at paving the way for fire departments to obtain voice interoperability at emergency scenes.
The effort, financed by two $800,000 grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program, is aimed at enabling public safety personnel to talk to each other on different communication systems in real time. Public safety officials in different units often haven't been able to communicate with each other, because their radios operate on different frequencies and use different protocols.
"The initial deployment has taken place" in the Rumford, Maine, area, said a spokeswoman for the NASFM. She added that it is hoped the program will spread to other fire department operations in the state. The Rumford pilot is pioneering in its own way, although the NASFM and DHS are also sponsoring some additional test projects in other parts of the country. "There is a variety of different efforts under way," she said, adding that each is "unique in its own way."
Operating also under the auspices of the Regional Interoperable Communications Initiative, the Rumford project utilizes BAE Systems' First InterComm system, which enables radios on different frequencies to communicate with each other at emergency scenes. Installed in first-responder vehicles, the BAE equipment utilizes existing gear and does not require major equipment replacement.
Several BAE First InterComm devices have been placed around the Rumford area, said Rumford Fire Chief John C. Woulfe III, who is also former president of the Maine Fire Chiefs' Association.
"This system was initially developed for the defense industry and has been carefully adapted to serve the specific needs of emergency responders," said Michael Greene, director of homeland security solutions for BAE.