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9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

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Las Vegas Fire & Rescue's Mobile Command & Communications Unit

Author: Fire-PIO Timothy R. Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,

Date: 2010-12-03
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Originally Published in our Nov/Dec 2004 issue.

Las Vegas is considered one of the fastest growing areas in the United States with nearly 5000 people moving to the Las Vegas Valley and 35.5 million tourists visiting each year. And with that growth comes the demand for emergency services.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue is tasked with providing fire and emergency medical services for the city’s 536,000 residents and visitors over an area that covers 117 square miles. Responding to over 72,000 calls in 2003, the department also opened three new fire stations, bringing the total to 15, and hired nearly 100 firefighters. To keep up with the growth, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue asked residents in Las Vegas to pass a $551 million tax initiative. The passage permitted the department to build four new fire stations, purchase several new apparatus and hire additional fire department employees.

Since 2001, in addition to adding the new stations and personnel, the department replaced its entire fleet including 19 fire engines, six ladder trucks, a hazardous materials response unit, a heavy-duty rescue truck, and a 3,500-gallon water tanker. The last addition was a new mobile command and communications unit.

The initiative made it possible for the department to purchase all of the trucks from one manufacturer and Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wisconsin was selected by the city. Having one standard truck for the entire company is cost-effective and efficient. Previously there were four different brands of fire trucks and it was impossible to keep parts for the trucks on hand. Parts would have to be special ordered, which added to down time. Now that the same company makes every truck, certain parts can be kept in stock and mechanics are more familiar with a standard truck.

The last unit purchased was the new Mobile Command and Communications Unit (MCU). Prior to purchasing the new unit, the department had been using a converted recreational vehicle, which was much smaller and limited in capabilities. The new unit is built on a Pierce Lance chassis and the interior of the unit was built by LDV, Inc.

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The department decided a new MCU was needed for a number of reasons: first to have a backup command and control center available in the event fire headquarters would be placed out of service; second to have a backup communications center in the event that the fire alarm office (FAO) was placed out of service; third to have a mobile command and communications center at a large scale incident to help coordinate activities between the incident commander and the city’s Emergency Operations Center; and finally to provide a larger information center for the Fire-Public Information Officer if needed at an incident.

The unit was designed by three members of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, Deputy Chief, Operations, Greg Gammon, Communications Director Lou Amell, and Fire-Public Information Officer Tim Szymanski. After working on plans for the new unit for nearly a year, work began in October 2003. The unit was delivered to the department in May after being exhibited by Pierce at the FDIC East in Indianapolis. The interior of the Mobile Command Unit (MCU) is divided into three areas: public information, communications, and command & control.

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Media Office

Inside the front part of the truck is the public information office. This enables the Fire-PIO to have an office in the command center during larger incidents. The office is equipped with three Motorola XTL5000 P25 radios, (one each 800 MHz, VHF, UHF). There is also a Uniden BC785D all band scanner, which monitors numerous other frequencies.

A small 13-inch television is used to monitor the local media or national media via a Direct TV satellite receiver. There is also a Pioneer DEH-P7400MP CD Receiver (AM/FM/XM Satellite) mobile radio with Supertuner III, MP3 playback and IP-Bus System Control built into the office to monitor the different public radios. The radio plays through two pairs of Pioneer 3-way 160-watt speakers, one pair in the PIO area and the other pair in the rear conference room. A weather alert radio is also set up in the office to receive or monitor alerts that are disseminated through the Southern Nevada Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The TV can be switched to an Ikegami ultra-high performance color video camera, which is mounted on a Will-Burt TMD-6-25-367 heavy-duty non-locking 25-foot telescopic tower which is also hooked into a slow-mode Panasonic VCR which can tape for nearly 200 hours in slow motion. There is a master laptop computer, which has Internet access along with a Panasonic toughbook, which monitors all active calls from the Fire Alarm Office.

A combination network printer, copier, scanner, fax machine is also mounted in the office which can be accessed from seven different locations within the command center.

The PIO area also has a Capricorn 2000 weather station module built in with a computer access port. The weather station monitors wind direction/speed, barometric pressure, altimeter, humidity, dew point and temperature. Some of the sensors are permanently mounted on the outside of the unit and the wind instruments are mounted on a pole, which must be set up when the vehicle reaches its destination. This information is vital especially during a hazardous materials incident in which on scene – real time weather information is needed.

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Mobile Communications

The next area in the unit is the communications area, which has room for three dispatchers.  Each of the three areas has three Motorola XTL5000 P25 radios (for a total of nine in the communications area).  Three of the radios are programmed in the 800 MHz range for fire and rescue communications.  Three radios are set up in the VHF range for police communications and three in UHF for medical communications.  Also in the communications area will be three laptop computers and a Panasonic Toughbook laptop for call tracking and other needs.

Another important part of communications is the ability to communicate with other agencies.  The MCU has a Raytheon TRP-1000 Multiple Agency Radio Communications Interoperability System built in.  This enables communications between agencies on different frequencies and/or different bands.  The system allows radio networks of different frequencies to communicate with each other.  It provides connections, in any combination, between the system’s ten radios and two phone lines.  The phone lines can be connected to the PSTN network or to cell phones or satellite phones.  The unit allows radio users on two separate frequencies to talk to each other, a telephone user to communicate with a radio network, or it can interconnect any number of radio users and telephone users to interconnect in a large conference call.    A laptop computer is being designed that will be kept in the MCU that will be used to program the TRP-1000 in the field with preloaded information so the unit can be programmed in a timely manner during an incident.

With all the radios in the MCU, numerous antennas are needed.  A three-inch square aluminum channel was designed for the roof of the unit that will hold all the antennas and has room for future upgrades.  There is space for 40 antennas, which are all pre-wired with cable to the interior of the MCU in a special closet.  If a future radio is added, only the antenna will have to be added to the roof unit.  Mounting and cabling is already pre-laid, which can save time, especially if radios are added during an incident.

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Command

In the rear of the interior area of the truck is the command & control room which is basically a conference area where personnel can work on plans and coordinate without interruption.  Like the other areas of the unit, it also has telephones, computer network capabilities, a TV and VCR.

The truck also has a galley (small kitchen area) in the middle with a small sink, microwave oven, coffee maker, and refrigerator.  A large five-gallon water cooler is also located in this area.  There is also a restroom with a Incinolet model WB240 stainless steel electric toilet.

Telephone communications are available in three modes: hardwire, cellular, and satellite. The unit is equipped with a Panasonic Electronic Telephone Switching System which is also interfaced with a Globalstar 1900M satellite telephone system.  The phone system will first look for a dial tone from a hardwire source, which can be supplied to the rig via a portable reel which carries over a quarter mile of telephone wire for six phones to a panel which is located on the outside of the MCU.  If a dialtone cannot be found by hardwire, the system will switch to a cellular provider (on four separate lines).  If no cell service is available, then it will default to the satellite system.

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Power

With all of the electrical/electronic equipment on board, adequate power is needed.  The MCU has two 120/240 volt Onan Commercial quiet 12.0 kW generators (model 12.0HDCAD-2209A) mounted in custom fabricated all aluminum compartments on each side of the rig.  They are operated from two 50-amp 120/240Vac control panels with generator and shore power main breakers and 11 UL listed magnetic/hydraulic branch circuit breakers with LED indicator lights, volt meters, and generator hour meters located in the galley.  Power can be brought into the MCU via the generators, or a 20 amp shore line or through 100 feet of 6/4 cable stored on a Hannay shore power cord reel which is mounted in a rear compartment. A large batteries system is also built into the unit, which also supplies power.  The generators are designed to provide all the power the unit needs and for added items.

Some of those extra items include six Havis Shields halogen lights mounted on the outside of the unit which can light up the entire area around the rig and two 500 watt Havis Shield halogen lights mounted on portable tripods which are carried on the rear bumper of the unit.  The lights can be used while mounted on the rig, or moved to a remote location. Also mounted on the outside are four Bogan 60 watt speakers (one on each corner of the rig) connected to a Bogan amplifier for the public address system.  The PA system can be accessed from any of the six inside telephones or one outside telephone.

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Mobile Operations

A main concern of the department was the comfort of personnel while working inside the unit.  Being in the desert, with summer temperatures soaring above 110 degrees, air conditioning is a must.  The unit is equipped with four Coleman 9200 series air conditioners with 5,600 Btu/hr heat strips and condensation pump. For the cooler times there are three 12,000 Btu/hr direct discharge 12Vdc/diesel fired furnaces with individual thermostat controls.

A Quadra Mfg, Inc “Big Foot” QE-2 four point fully automatic leveling system is used to level the unit once it arrives on scene.  There is also a large Girard Systems electric awning mounted on the right outside of the unit to shade personnel from the hot desert sunrays.

The truck is 39-feet in length and eight feet wide, with a height of 12 feet, 9 inches.  The cab holds two people.  

More work is in progress for the new rig including the addition of a laptop computer at each workstation (approximately 10 laptops will be setup in the MCU at all times so personnel can access them without having to bring laptops to the scene).  Also a number of flat screen monitors and TVs are going to be added including five in the PIO area, three in the communications area and eight in the conference area.  They will be used to monitor the media and other information sources such as satellite weather radar, to monitor activities at the scene via remote cameras, and for video conferencing with personnel in the city’s Emergency Operations Center. 

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A system is being developed where live TV images will be transmitted from the scene to the city EOC via the MCU.  This will enable city officials as well as personnel in the EOC to see in real time what is actually happening at the scene of the incident.

Currently the MCU is dispatched to alarms greater than 2- Alarm, or it can be called to lesser alarms at the request of the Incident Commander.  It can also deploy to large media events for the Fire-PIO to use as a media center and to fire fatality scenes to be used as an office area during the investigation.

Cost of the new unit, along with new equipment being installed, is nearly one million dollars.

 

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