he 50-some ham radio operators in the Great Falls Area Amateur Radio Club are gearing up for a big year.
They're completing the renovation and equipping of a large RV trailer seized by the Cascade County Sheriff's Office in a drug raid and turned over to the club to use to help provide mobile communications to responders during wildfires, floods and other emergencies.
Great Falls club members also are helping their national parent group, the American Radio Relay League, celebrate its 100th anniversary. The national association of amateur radio has more than 162,000 members, many of whom will be making radio contact with the Great Falls club when it has the honor of using the flagship Newington, Conn.'s station's W1AW call sign from Dec. 10 to 16.
The club also will provide mobile communications in the spring when area wildfire responders do their annual training before the summer fire season.
Vince Kolar, Cascade County Emergency Services manager, said the Great Falls ham radio club is included in the county's emergency operations plan.
It could be called in to provide backup mobile communications in a wildfire situation in which area residents are being evacuated and firefighters are having trouble communicating, particularly in a mountainous area, Kolar said. The ham radio club can bring in portable repeaters and mobile radios, he added.
"We've probably needed such ham radio support only four or five times in the 14 years I've been manager," Kolar said. "But when we need that help, we really need it."
During Field Day in June, club members will set up radio equipment with backup generators in their communications trailer and try to make contact with as many other hams around the country and world as they can.
The Great Falls club usually leads the state in such radio contacts and two years ago was fifth in the nation, said businessman George Forsyth, ARRL section manager for Montana."It's a challenge to reach other ham operators quickly, it's fun talking to them and it improves our proficiency," said Forsyth, 57, who runs an alarm service and an answering service. He also has another business that purchases older radios from estates to provide used equipment to folks looking to get into the hobby.