Inside the Smoke – RCMP techs battle fire, keep critical equipment running

BC – While fires have already destroyed vast swaths of forests, threatened communities and burned homes, the BC RCMP’s radio techs are focussed on keeping approximately 500 radio repeater sites around the province working, to help provide a critical link in an emergency.

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The RCMP polices most of BC’s landmass, including very remote communities and many areas that don’t have cell coverage. In order to help protect the public and police officers, the radio repeater sites relay transmissions from dispatchers to the radio units in the cars and carried by police officers.

“From a public safety perspective, this is mission critical equipment,” explains Sgt. Jason Reader, currently working as a liaison between the BC RCMP’s fires management team and the Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre’s Critical Infrastructure Team.

Fires have burned through or around at least a few repeater sites so far, but none of the RCMP repeaters have gone down. Most recently in north-central BC two RCMP radio technicians travelled out to a remote location to check on the RCMP repeater. A non-RCMP repeater was adjacent to it, and was completely destroyed, while the insulated aluminum around the RCMP repeater survived the heat and flames.

The two technicians, civilian members of the RCMP, actually came across a hot spot that had reignited on their way to the repeater, and had to use water bottles, cooler water, rakes and whatever else they could find in their truck to put the new fire out.

“Our staff have to endure some rather extreme weather conditions – accessing mountain-top sites via helicopter in the winter, hanging off towers to get to the repeaters. We’ve also equipped our staff to spend the night if they need to in all cases, include during the wild fires,” says Sgt. Reader.

An RCMP radio repeater station, right, survived a fire in north-central BC, while another radio repeater, constructed of different materials, did not survive.
An RCMP radio repeater station, right, survived a fire in north-central BC, while another radio repeater, constructed of different materials, did not survive.

Another repeater site that escaped damage was in the midst of the Elephant Hill fire. The radio technicians brought the risk to an RCMP repeater to the attention of BC Wildfire Service. As a result, orange retardant was dumped on the site in two different passes to help protect important radio equipment.

A portable radio repeater has also been put into use during crisis, transported to the Lone Butte area, and set up by technicians to augment radio services in that region.

“Without these repeaters, we’d be forced to rely on cell phones which of course don’t have service available in many areas,” explains Sgt. Reader. “Additionally, on a cell you can only call one person at a time – with the radios, multiple police officers can listen and provide support and respond if needed.”

BC RCMP


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