FARMINGTON – In a small corner room on the third floor of the Franklin County Courthouse, there is a large group you’ve probably never heard of: the Franklin County Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES). You’ve probably never heard of it for good reason: ARES exists to serve in an emergency where the only working line of communication is the radio. Although ARES is little used, his group is filled with a lot of passion, knowledge and eagerness to jump into any situation.
One weekday morning in May, I sat down with ARES members and amateur radio operators John Tarbox, Steve Ewing, Randy Gauvin and Albert McDaniel to learn more about the purpose of ARES, the intricacies of radio and the ways in which a passion for amateur radio connects its operators.
ARES is a subgroup of the Franklin County Emergency Management Agency and offered through the American Radio Relay League. It is a service intended to provide the public with radio operations in emergency situations.
“What we’re designed to do is be put in situations, Gauvin said. “If something bad happens, a flood, and someone needs to keep an eye on that road especially through the flood, (the EMA) can tell Randy, can you go up there.” , put your car there and watch this area? Said Gauvin.
“IIf the phone lines are cut, we are the communications of last resort, ”Tarbox said.
During disasters like Hurricane Katrina, “radio amateurs have been invaluable in the South,” according to Tarbox. Likewise with the Boston Marathon bombing.
“Anytime you see a major disaster, radio amateurs will be there to literally save lives, ”Tarbox said.
You might be wondering: if a hurricane or flood knocks down power lines, how are the radio frequencies still working?
“As long as we have a tree upright we can throw a piece of wire in the air and throw it for an antenna, ”McDaniel said. “Our issuers all of them run on battery voltage for the most part so worst comes worst we can carry a car battery.
In non-emergency situations, ARES offers communication services during “public interest events” such as the Gravel Grind in Rangeley, the Trek Across Maine and the Sugarloaf Marathon.
They also participate in emergency drills, such as an active marksmanship exercise held three years ago by the Farmington Police Department at the University of Maine at Farmington. Ewing said during a mass casualty event, ARES would be there to confirm an individual’s status and safety for family members arriving at the scene.
ARES operators, aka “hams” have also offered non-radio services by “helping in the hospital (to) direct traffic for people receiving their COVID vaccine,” Gauvin said.
Because emergencies that cut communications have been rare in Franklin County, ARES has yet to assist in an emergency.
“The reality of most emergency services is that you are not used very often, ”said Gauvin.
“Which is good,” McDaniel added.
As a result, ARES members “need to train a lot” to stay prepared, according to Gauvin.
“We are so happy that this is fair coaching and we don’t have the real disasters, ”Tarbox said.
While ARES provides the necessary services, the group is run entirely by volunteers.
“By the privilege of their license” acquired through the Federal Communications Commission, radio amateurs are not allowed to charge for their services.
The group started in 2009 when they were offered a room at the courthouse with a grant and recently retired radios from ambulances and police departments.
Every surface of the Franklin County ARES Headquarters is covered with radios. Mid-size radios are stacked on shelves, desks are lined with portable radios – aka “walkie-talkies” – and other gadgets litter the room.
“We are rich in radio,” said Gauvin.
Because emergency services via hams are not always necessary, ARES is also a tool for uniting local hams in the Franklin County area.
“We’re acting like an informal club anyway,” Gauvin said.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, ARES radio amateurs tune in to the same frequency every night to “make sure everyone is okay”, “hit the base” and “tell jokes”.
Hams also have the privilege of chatting with people all over the world via networks, where they meet on the same frequency for a chat network. Similar to online chat groups, these chat networks unite hams for just about anything: There is a maritime network, where people at sea can message home, get weather reports, or chat about. boat safety; nets for people interested in photography or motorhomes – you name it.
Via a large antenna on Mosher Hill in Farmington, the region’s hams can connect with people from all over the world.
Asked what they might discuss about these nets, McDaniel said “it’s more about what we don’t talk about than what we talk about. The dos and don’ts these days could be politics, although McDaniel has said there are nets for political beliefs as well. The wrong thing to do, he said, is music: The FCC prohibits the transmission of music, whether it’s playing a song or even singing yourself because of the laws on it. copyright.
Tarbox appreciates amateur radio for its ability to connect to radio amateurs halfway around the world. He had conversations with locals in Slovenia and sheep farmers in Australia and learned about the details of everyday life, like what they eat for breakfast.
“You talk to these people that you would never have talked to otherwise and you learn what their life is like and what it is in their country,” Tarbox said. “I find it fascinating to learn things and talk to people that you might never meet otherwise. “
After connecting by radio, radio amateurs have a tradition of sending each other postcards. They have a photo of where they are from and their call signs, a series of characters and numbers assigned to them when they first get their license, to say “thank you for the conversation”.
Ewing showed off his binder filled with postcards from radio amateurs from around the world, meaning he had conversations with hams from St. Barts, Martinique, Guyana and Angola, never to name a few.
This workbook is also filled with awards for participating in amateur radio events, such as the 13 Colonies event where radio amateurs attempt to connect during the week of July 4 with stations in the home 13 states. In another event, the Hams attempt to connect with people parked along Route 66.
“It’s amazing because it’s so competitive that people want to get to these stations,” Ewing said. “It’s like a swarm of people just trying to get through… It’s quite an experience.”
“There are lighthouses in the air, parks in the air, there are mountains in the air, there are highlands in the air,” Tarbox said. “All these different programs. There are only a million different rewards you could get.
Those who wish to get involved in amateur radio to engage with the world in the aforementioned manner must obtain their general license (one step above the first level, technician) by passing a licensing exam and acquiring a radio, which is much more affordable now than it was back then. Ewing, Tarbox, Gauvin and McDaniel got involved first.
There is a learning curve, but “you don’t have to be an expert to get your license,” Gauvin said. And more, he said the local hams “will support each other”.
“Yesou will be inundated with people who will want to help you because we support the service and want to make sure people are okay, ”Gauvin said of New Residents on Amateur Radio. “HThe am-radio operators accompany you throughout the process. If they know you are beautiful have problems, they will correct you.”
More information on amateur radio operations, licensing, and finding networks and leagues can be found on ARRL.org. Local amateurs can tune to 147.180 daily at 7:30 p.m. to chat with Franklin County amateurs.
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