Radio Jammers Hurting Maine Responders' Efforts - News - @

Radio Jammers Hurting Maine Responders' Efforts

It's mainly affecting fire and rescue crews' transmissions


EDWARD D. MURPHY, The Portland Press Herald | | Friday, April 27, 2012

AUGUSTA, Maine -- Someone has been intermittently jamming radio transmissions of fire and rescue departments in southern Maine for the past few months, but on Sunday, Jason Cole said, the problem escalated sharply.

Cole, the assistant chief of Lebanon's rescue department, said he went on a medical call shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday. When he arrived at the house, it was clear the person was in worse shape that he had thought, so he got on the radio to call for another ambulance with advanced life support equipment and more emergency medical technicians.

"Every time I'd key the mic, they'd cover us," Cole said. Someone else was using a microphone on the same frequency, blocking Cole's transmissions.

Cole had to leave the house and walk to the end of the driveway where he could get reception for his cellphone and call in his request for help.

"They're getting more dangerous," Cole said, noting that the patient is still in the hospital. "This is far more serious than the prank that this person apparently thinks it is."

Federal law treats jamming public safety communications as more than a prank.

Jamming those transmissions -- as well as buying, selling or operating a jamming device -- violates federal law and can lead to fines up to $112,500 per act and prison, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which polices the airwaves.

The FCC has a zero tolerance policy in this area, said Michele Ellison, chief of the agency's enforcement bureau.

Cole said an FCC official told him that if someone dies when someone is intentionally jamming the department's radios, it could lead to manslaughter charges.

Cole said the problem is affecting the town's fire and rescue crews, as well as crews in North Berwick, Acton, Shapleigh and Limerick. In most cases, only the transmissions of certain individuals in those departments are being jammed.

Cole said the same departments had jammed transmissions in 2004 and he was also among those who seemed to be targeted then. In that case, he said, the transmissions being blocked weren't essential -- an EMT or firefighter reporting for work or a crew clearing the scene of an accident or fire.

That case was investigated by the FCC, which was preparing to set up monitoring equipment to pinpoint the source of the jamming when the problem stopped.

Cole said the FCC has been contacted again and it's reviewing the case file from 2004 as it begins to investigate the latest incidents. The FCC on Tuesday told dispatchers to read a statement saying that interfering with the transmissions is illegal whenever more jamming occurs.

Cole said another federal agency, which he declined to identify, is also investigating the jamming and working on a profile of the person interfering with the transmissions. He said most of the transmissions are being jammed at night or on weekends, suggesting the person or people involved have day jobs.

It's not that difficult to jam radio communications, said Jeff Kostis, a radio technician with Southern Maine Communications, which supplies and maintains the radio equipment used by many fire and rescue crews in York County.

He said people can buy radios that can be programmed to tune in particular frequencies and the frequencies of public service agencies can be found in online databases. Simply keying a microphone can override another transmission on that frequency, he said.

In 2004, the person jamming the transmissions sometimes whistled into the microphone, he said. This time there's silence.

Cole also noted that, unlike 2004, radios mounted in ambulances and fire trucks are being jammed and they are far more powerful than the handheld radios that fire and rescue personnel carry.

In the current case in York County, he said, someone appears to key the microphone as soon as a firefighter or EMT provides their radio identification code. The microphone is sometimes released and re-keyed repeatedly -- probably to see if the fire and rescue crew is still trying to transmit. The jamming is repeated until the crews stop trying to transmit.

"It's definitely deliberate," he said. "It's not a game. One of these days, it's going to cost someone's life."

Cole said he expects the FCC to act quickly in the case, noting that mobile monitoring devices can be deployed more quickly now than in 2004 and satellite technology can also play a role in locating the jammer.

He said he's most concerned about people who need medical help, like the man he assisted on Sunday, and firefighters who sometimes have to use their radios to communicate from inside burning buildings.

"The radio, that's their lifeline," he said.

Copyright © 2013 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: News, radio jammers

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Improving Survival from Cardiac Arrest Using ACD-CPR + ITD

Using active compression-decompression CPR with an ITD has been shown to improve 1-year survival from cardiac arrest by 33%.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Philadelphia Fire Department Apologizes for Medic’s Jab at Police

Union head calls photos a slap in the face of officers.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

D.C. Fire and EMS Crews Blame New Technology for Patient’s Death

Delayed response blamed on recurring dispatch problems.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Suspect Steals, Crashes Maryland Ambulance

One killed, others injured in Prince George’s County crash.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Truck Strikes Pedestrians in Scotland

Six killed in downtown Glasgow.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Tennessee Trench Rescue

Worker pulled from Roane County worksite.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Time’s Ebola Firefighters

Doctors, nurses and others saluted for fighting virus.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Field Bridge Xpress ePCR on iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

Sneak peek of customizable run forms & more.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

VividTrac offered by Vivid Medical - EMS Today 2013

VividTrac, affordable high performance video intubation device.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >