New York State
Association of Fire Chiefs

Providing Service to Those Who Serve


Interoperability – Are You Prepared?

The NYSAFC Communications Committee has created forms to assist fire and EMS agencies with pre-planning. The reference forms allow members to quickly locate interoperability radio channels.

By the NYSAFC Communications Committee
Interoperability is a buzzword we have all heard. It has many definitions. In the fire service, it basically boils down to having the ability to communicate effectively with all resources operating at a common incident.

Most agencies have the interoperability issue solved when operating with other nearby agencies that frequently work together. However, the issue may not be so simple when operating with agencies from farther away or when responding to an incident in a more distant part of the state or to another state.

Numerous national interoperability frequencies have been set aside to facilitate emergency communications between public safety agencies when their radio systems are not directly compatible, even when the radio systems operate in different frequency bands. The issue is easier when all units are operating in the same frequency band. By planning a coordinated switch to an interoperability channel, direct unit to unit communications are possible. For example, if all units operate in the UHF frequency band (450-460 MHz), all units could switch to UTAC41D. Similarly, VTAC11 could be used on VHF (150 MHz), 7TAC51D on 700 MHz, or 8TAC91D on 800 MHz.

When not all units are operating in the same frequency band, most dispatch centers have the capability to patch the local radio channel to one of the national interop frequencies. In this case, the local units could remain on their normal channel, and the incoming mutual aid units could use one of the national interop channels available in your radio. This radio channel patch would need to be coordinated with the incident commander and the dispatch center.

Additionally, most dispatch centers monitor the national “CALL” channels in multiple frequency bands. If your radios are VHF, you should be able to reach the desired dispatch center on VCALL10. For other frequency bands, use UCALL40D, 7CALL50D, or 8CALL90D.

It is important to occasionally train in the use of the national interoperability channels. This could be something reviewed periodically at training drills, just as is currently done with other firematic and EMS training drill topics.

The NYSAFC Communications Committee has provided forms to help your agency do some pre-planning with the national interoperability channels. The forms are intended to help your agency identify which interoperability channels you have programmed in your radios, and help you know how to switch to these channels. Once the form is filled out, it can be kept as a reference in your vehicles, so it is available when the need arises to use these channels.

PDF copies of the forms can be downloaded from the NYSAFC website here. Email questions to the Communications Committee here.
This article was prepared as a joint effort by the NYSAFC Communications Committee. Current members include David Bartkowiak (Chautauqua County), Harrison Hobbs (Clinton County), Mark Lacivita (Rensselaer County), Brian LaFlure (Warren County), Myles Quinn (Suffolk County), and Brian Wilbur (Tompkins County). The committee is led by Chairman Edward Wright (Onondaga County). Thank you to past committee members H. Dale Banker (Orleans County) and Laurence Vaughan (Monroe County) for their contributions to this project.