[aprssig] Aprs used during fire

Wes Johnston wes at kd4rdb.com
Mon Jun 12 08:34:53 CDT 2006

A fire started in an old abandoned cotton mill/ textile plant/ plastics plant in a nearby town.  The building was 75 years old and had been several things in it's lifetime and never cleaned out.  There were all sorts of drums of old chemicals stacked up inside and those were putting out toxic smoke that forced the evacuation of over 1000 people from the town.  When the roof collapsed it pulled in the walls and the concrete walls them provided a cover for the fire so that they couldn't get water to the fire.   Ladder trucks were brought in from Charlotte NC and other towns.  After 4 days two blackhawk helos were brought in with 750 gallon water bags and started dumping water on the building.  After approximately 280 dumps each in two days the fire was only smoldering.  

Interesting notes:
The army radio op who was to talk to the helos from the ground couldn't get either of his radios to work and asked my help for diagnosing his radios.  He said the frequency was simply 3040... he had no clue what that meant and I didn't have a frequency counter.  I suspected it was 243.040, but not sure.  As it turns out the speaker mics on BOTH his radios were broken.  One of our state guard guys had a sporties HT with him and was able to get the pilots over to our 123.1mhz air frequency and he was able to direct the water drops.

We used rino gps radios to track the locations of some of our people and xastir to display the positions.  

We were able to pull up street maps of the town, plot ICP location and all the roadblock locations using xastir, print the map and distribute to troops on the ground so they could visualize the event.

The aiken county hams brought their _very_ nice comms trailer which has satellite internet on the roof and a wifi access point.  We were able to use our wifi router in a "client" mode which allowed us to connect to their wifi access point 1200 feet away.  From there it was easy to pull up terraserver photo maps for xastir and to send digital camera photos out via email.  They are a great bunch of guys, it was a pleasure working with them!  Something to note however is that they had enabled WEP encryption using the ascii passphrase method and their router would not tell me what the hex version of the key was.  We ended up simply turning off WEP and they'll pick a key in the future using hex.

Portable weather stations would have been nice.  If we'd had 4 of them we could have placed them around the perimeter of the fire and known when the smoke was going to shift.

Typical problems we had to handle from the evacuees ranged from a riot at the shelter on the morning of the 4th day to pets left behind that needed food to diabetics needing to get to their insulin at home.

The fire lasted from June 6 until yesterday.

In our little comms trailer we have 4 normal laptops, 1 panasonic toughbook, 2 HF radios (hf 6m, 2, 70cm), two kenwood d700s, RINO radios, and twenty odd icom f21 GMRS radios and two aircraft am HTs.  I was able to setup the one of the kenwoods and a GMRS rino to monitor 150meg police repeater, ham repeater talkin freq, monitor rino positions using a dualband 2m70cm antenna, and the other kenwood to monitor two gmrs frequencies on a GMRS antenna.  If the aiken trailer had been running aprs (they have the d700 radios already) we could have shared our aprs info with them and we could have used it as an instant messenger between the trailers.

I threw together a little video of some of the snapshots taken with a digital cam... http://www.kd4rdb.com/scsg/GreatFallsFire(low-bandwidth).wmv  if you have more than a casual interest, I can send you a 10meg version of the same video.

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