Mutual aid is an essential component of industrial fire protection in the 21st century. Likewise, radio interoperability is an essential component of successful mutual aid response.
Portland, OR, based Firecom Corp. has taken advantage of the latest in digital technology to advance the cause of interoperability. Firecom 5000D series digital intercoms allow users to connect up to four radios for simulcast interoperability with mutual aid or other agencies. When combined with Firecom wireless headsets and base stations, the intercom enables communications for up to 40 wireless headset users per system. The unit can also handle up to 10 wired headsets or a mix of wireless and wired headsets.
The latest intercom series, introduced at the Fire-Rescue International conference in Denver in August, goes even further than that, said Carl Azar, director of marketing for Firecom.
“You can now have four radios and up to four auxiliary devices plugged in, including cell phones,” Azar said. “The overall system provides hands-free full-duplex wireless communication among headset users combined with radio and auxiliary communication directly from the headsets. Crew effectiveness and safety is significantly enhanced.”
The new intercom unit allows the operators to receive on all four radios,” he said. “The operator can also transmit on any combination of those radios. You can choose at any moment which radios are included in the transmission just by pushing buttons on the front panel.”
In industrial emergency response, the obvious use for this intercom system would be in a command center to tie together the multiple radios in use, Azar said.
“Now you can tie radios and intercom users together and pick and chose what you are doing with them, all the way up to having everybody hear everything,” Azar said. “So there is a lot of flexibility there.”
That flexibility extends to the use of up to four weatherproof remote control units with the same controls as the intercom box.
“On apparatus, the engineer at the pump panel can now have a wireless headset that gives him access not only to everybody wearing a headset but all the radio traffic,” Azar said. “He can control his radio from the pump panel, not just the cab.”
In the command center, where multiple people may need to control the radio traffic, each can have their own remote control to the intercom for that task, he said.
Because the technology is digital rather than analog, the 5000D series offers clear audio that eliminates interference from chronic sources such as faulty alternators or electric motors.
“We offer a much wider range of frequencies so voices sound natural instead of being clipped off,” Azar said. “Speech is more intelligible.”
For existing Firecom customers, the 5000D series is completely compatible – electronically and physically – with previous units.
“Anyone that has an intercom from us can literally pull that one out, put this one in, plug in the same cables on the back and go from one radio to four,” Azar said. “We interface to over 400 radio models, so compatibility is not an issue.”
With previous analog models, fine tuning such as the volume and squelch level were adjusted by screwdriver on the intercom’s rear panel. The new model allows all adjustments to be made digitally from the intercom’s front panel.
The fact that the intercom offers so many improvements tended to complicate beta testing by several fire depart-ments in the Portland, OR, area.
“We literally can’t get the intercoms back from the people who are testing them,” Azar said. “They don’t want to give them up.”
Fire truck manufact-urers who signed a non disclosure agreement were given a sneak peek at the product several months before its Denver debut. Azar said the feedback has been positive.
“They’re very excited to install it in their equipment,” he said.
Firecom enhanced its reputation as being on the leading edge of new technology in the fire service when it introduced a self-contained wireless headset four years ago, beating its competitors, Azar said.
Late last year Firecom introduced its second generation in wireless technology, the 50-Series, offering a 1,600 foot line-of-sight range, nearly 30 times the coverage area of conventional Bluetooth systems.
“Bluetooth was never designed to do any more than connect your headset to your cell phone,” Azar said. “People pump it up and get a 50 foot range out of it. Our 1.9 gigahertz DECT implementation is better.”
Because the headset is self contained and not connected to a belt pack, its multiple antennas are higher for better coverage. Also, Blue-tooth technology ope-rates at a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz – the same frequency as garage door openers and all other Bluetooth headsets, Azar said.
“We operate on a completely reserved frequency issued by the FCC,” he said.
Technological advances such as the 5000D Series and the 50-Series have continued Firecom’s strong position in the fire service, Azar said.
“The fire service is a key piece of our business,” he said. “Way over 50 percent of the new apparatus on the market comes with our stuff on it.”