This last Saturday, the Chehalis Valley Amateur Radio Society (CVARS) held its 22nd annual ham radio tailgate swap meet at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. Located in an open pavilion at the fair, hams from all over the region congregated to sell their wares or find that special microphone or key they just had to have. As the day progressed we watched a constant flow of folks heading out of the pavilion with armloads of used ham gear, and every one of them had a smile on their face. Many of our Amateur Radio Emergency Service team members, most of which are also CVARS members, worked long and hard on Saturday taking tickets, spotting vehicles, working the auction or the information table and generally keeping the event moving. In addition, Comm III handled the talk-in frequencies and made sure everyone could find their way to the fairgrounds.
It is amazing how many old friends you find at these swap meets. Time to catch up on new radios or antennas purchased, hearing about new license upgrades or just reconnecting. Many hams stopped by Comm III to chat or just look over the communications equipment inside. Attendees from as far away as Idaho arrived early to get a good spot where they could sell and buy. By noon, things were winding down and the auction was over as everyone began to leave with their treasures.
The ham radio tailgate swap meet has been a tradition for many years in our part of Washington which will hopefully continue for many years to come. Look for us next year. It is never too early to start gathering those ham radio items to sell, and it never hurts to start saving up your loose change. You know you will find something you just have to have.
Field Day is always interesting. Last year we dealt with Covid-19 issues and concerns. This year we held Field Day during the hottest weather ever seen in the Pacific Northwest. Field Day is all about taking amateur radio into the field and making it work. It tests our ability to be flexible, to use alternate power sources and to face all kinds of problems head on. As an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) team serving our local police and fire departments, it is exactly what we are looking for in an exercise. Plus it is just plain fun!
This year, our ARES team set up four transmitter stations: 20 meters using a crank up mast and beam antenna in an open field, a 40 meter station in one of our mobile communications vans, a 15 / 80 meter station in the other mobile comms van and a 10 meter station in a members truck. While setting up the comms vans is relatively easy, it is an all hands on deck job to erect the tower and beam safely – especially in record heat.
As part of our ARES mission, we added a few things to our Field Day program. Saturday morning before Field Day began, we conducted propagation tests from our FD site to a high overlook point we use for many of our exercises. We checked our normal repeaters as well as the club repeater. We checked 6 meters simplex, 6 meter repeater, 10 meter propagation and all of our simplex frequencies. All worked well. Next we tasked team member Diane W7DWD, to send a radio report from our local airport back to our FD site involving a pretend supply drop of food, water and supplies. Midway through Saturday, we had a lesson in how to assemble and erect a military NVIS antenna. Once we established its frequency we were able to make some decent contacts as well. Sunday morning we tested propagation from the main fire department amateur radios back to the field day site again through various repeated and simplex frequencies.
Field Day is not all work however. We enjoyed a great breakfast to get us started on Saturday along with the world’s best cinnamon rolls made by one of our team members, Evelyn, and a large potluck meal mid afternoon. Both the police chief and the fire chief came to the FD site for visits. Riverside Fire Authority Chief Kytta spoke to our group about upcoming summer fire dangers and how our ARES team could help with both wildfire windshield survey work and our new Red Flag Spotter’s program.
Field Day will probably always be about the number of contacts for most amateur radio operators but for our ARES team it is also about preparedness and working together as a team to accomplish a mission. At the end of the day if we can claim that we worked out most of the big problems and a few of the little issues, then it has been a successful Field Day exercise. Now, if we could just figure out how to stay away from the 112 degree temperatures…..
The Pacific Northwest, and in particular, the western half of Washington State is not generally known for its summertime wildfires when compared to other states like California and Oregon. Most people think of our part of Washington State as a lush, green heavily forested area and while that is true, every county has its share of lowland grass or hay fields that become tinder dry when warm summer weather arrives.
In Lewis County, there are fifty five fire districts, many of which are rural volunteer stations not manned 24 hours a day. Riverside Fire Authority (RFA) is the largest district in our area with 184 sq. miles and covers the Centralia ARES served agencies. RFA operates out of two main stations with full time personnel as well as several volunteer stations. When summer arrives and the temperatures rise, several weather patterns join to create volatile and dangerous wildfire conditions. Extreme temperatures, high winds, low humidity and lowland topography filled with dry grasses, hay fields and other fuel sources create what is known as “Red Flag” weather conditions which are every fire fighters worst nightmare. When these conditions arrive, the National Weather Service (NWS) puts out Red Flag warnings and local authorities clamp down with burn bans. Wildfires that occur during Red Flag periods are not only dangerous, they can be explosive. Minutes, even seconds count in attacking these fires. While Red Flag warnings usually happen only a few times over the summer, they can last from a few days to a few weeks where everyone is on edge.
In conjunction with Riverside Fire Authority and with approval of Chief Mike Kytta, KG7GQT, Centralia ARES is working to develop a “Red Flag Spotters” program where trained amateur radio operators from our ARES team will volunteer to patrol rural areas of Riverside Fire Authority’s jurisdiction as an extra set of eyes watching for smoke or fires during dangerous Red Flag periods.
For safety purposes, Red Flag spotters will use their own vehicles, complete with at least 50 watt VHF radios connecting to two reliable local repeaters. A designated net control will oversee a minimum of two individual spotters working three and one half hour shifts. The plan is to cover the most dangerous parts of the day from Noon through 7pm. and spotters may drive rural roads or use hilltop locations to park and scan the area with binoculars. Should suspicious smoke or a fire be located, spotters or net control can communicate quickly by phone with an on duty fire supervisor capable of assessing what kind of deployment is needed.
For several years, Centralia ARES has trained to conduct windshield surveys for Riverside Fire ahead of what can be fast moving wildfires. ARES volunteers are watching for dangerous fire brands carried by the hot winds associated with a wildfire. These fire brands can easily start new fires ahead or around the wildfire and identifying the danger and alerting RFA allows for a quick response to the potentially new fire. The Red Flag spotters program is just an extension of our wildfire windshield survey work but we hope to bring just one more level of protection to our served agency and our community.
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Centralia Emergency Operations Center Callsign: K7CEM
Contact information: EC Bob Willey, KD7OWN at email@example.com