Radio club stepped up to help during fire

Communications were provided by Grand Forks Amateur Radio Club members for two days, until satellite telephone service could be established.

When the Rock Creek fire knocked out land and cell communications to the community of Beaverdell, the Grand Forks Amateur Radio Club was ready to help.

On Aug. 20, a B.C. emergency services coordinator located in Kamloops, B.C., contacted the Grand Forks Amateur Radio Club (GFARC) to ask for assistance. President Don Fraser was quick to set the wheels in motion to provide the expertise, personnel and equipment needed to ensure citizens of the Beaverdell area had communication with the rest of the region and the province.

Had there been a local emergency such as a new or expanding forest fire or a medical emergency, residents needed a way to summon help and GFARC was happy to provide it.

Many members of the GFARC hold valid Emergency Volunteer Services cards, issued by Emergency Management B.C. These members are listed on a provincial roster. This allows the province to contact qualified amateur radio operators in time of need. The card identifies a volunteer and allowed two local amateur radio operators to enter the restricted zone along Hwy. 33 during the Rock Creek fire road closures.

Don Fraser, known by his federally-issued call sign, VA7KT, and Brian Norwood, VE7NRD, travelled to Beaverdell with a portable amateur radio station consisting of a transceiver (an electronic piece of equipment that has the ability to transmit and receive radio signals of various frequencies), microphones and a battery power source.

Once set up, they communicated by voice signal to radio operators in Grand Forks who were monitoring a club repeater on Phoenix Mountain. These operators were then able to use the regular land and cellular telephone networks to relay important messages to and from residents and emergency workers in Beaverdell, Nelson and Trail.

Emergency communications were provided by GFARC members for two days, until satellite telephone service could be established for the community.

Amateur radio has a long history of providing emergency communications throughout the world. The relatively uncomplicated system of amateur radio operators, or “hams,” linked across nations and continents via repeaters is reliable, often powered by batteries or generators when electrical infrastructure is not available.

Often hams use Morse code as a more efficient form of communication, particularly when radio signal levels are marginal. This type of communication was widely used by the military during the first and second World Wars, and is still very much in use today. (An entertaining but fictitious example of Morse radio communications during times of disaster can be seen in the 1996 movie, Independence Day.)

Ham radio operators practice emergency preparedness procedures regularly, often through daily and weekly “nets” where they check in with a central operator with a voice or Morse code signal. This ensures equipment and operator readiness to rally in times of emergency.

Ham radio is a hobby for many and listening or chatting with others often hundreds of kilometers away is entertaining and at times, exciting. Recently a GFARC member was listening to a repeater in the Okanagan Valley when a ham radio operator driving on Highway 3 west of Osoyoos came upon a new wild fire a mere 100 metres from the road.

None of the people stopped was able to phone 911 to report the blaze but the quick-thinking “mobile” ham called it into the repeater where it was picked up by a local ham. This ham phoned 911 to report the new blaze.

GFARC meets the first Monday of every month to conduct club business and promote activities to enhance members’ skills and interest. New members are always welcome and can contact the club by calling 250-444-7144.