Paging Pelham’s volunteer heroes: Niagara-area FD beefs up emergency comms

Upgraded voice pagers, two-way radios will enhance safety when seconds count

For many of us, pagers are a quaint technological blast from the past.

But in the world of emergency response, they are a mission-critical tool for volunteers awaiting the fire hall’s call.

And the 80-odd volunteers with Pelham Fire Services, in Pelham, Ontario, will soon see that lifeline strengthened with an across-the-board upgrade of their voice pagers—which operate on a reserved radio frequency (RF) network, rather than cellular, for enhanced reliability.

“These pagers are the first line, and really the only line, of communication that we have to notify our firefighters that we have an emergency taking place,” says Pelham Fire Services chief Bob Lymburner. “Unless you’re right here in the hall, you would have no idea that there’s a call.

“These upgraded pagers have better range and penetration, with virtually guaranteed reception—no more dead zones,” he says. “They have programmable features. There’s a playback function, now, with digital storage. They definitely enhance our capability of getting more of our firefighters to the call, and quicker.”

Pelham Fire Services, based in Ontario’s Niagara Region, covers a population of 17,000 with a largely residential and commercial makeup. Pelham’s firefighting volunteers respond to about 600 calls a year—most of them medical emergencies (46%), motor vehicle accidents (12%), grass/brush fires (12%), or home/business alarms (12%).

Like many counterparts, Pelham Fire Services relies on its lines of communication—both pagers and “intrinsically safe” two-way radios. And also like many counterparts, Pelham Fire Services has been preparing for a major manufacturer’s equipment upgrade that will take effect in 2018 for both of those platforms, and carry a hefty price tag.

“We’ve been putting money away in our capital reserve budget, in preparation, for some time now,” notes Lymburner.

Enbridge’s Safe Community program has helped Pelham Fire Services cushion that financial blow, with a recent $12,000 donation.

Since 2002, our Safe Community program has provided about $9.3 million to North American emergency response organizations near our operations and projects—including the Enbridge Gas Distribution network, and the proposed Line 10 Westover Segment Replacement Project in the Hamilton/Niagara area—for new equipment, professional training or educational programs.

“We really appreciate Enbridge’s support, and that’s not just the Safe Community funding,” says Lymburner. “Enbridge supports us year-round with pipeline-related emergency response training and collaboration. It’s definitely a 12-month-a-year partnership.”