How to Use Vertex Radios with the USFS Radio System

Eugene & Central Oregon Dispatch

As part the planning process for a work party send a Trailhead Communications Plan (TCP) to the appropriate Dispatch and to your Forest Service primary contact. This will inform Dispatch of your itinerary, the trailhead you will be using and your call sign. During planning is also the time to review and ensure your radio is programmed for the repeaters (a primary and two alternates) you will be using (see the maps below); it’s a good idea to write these on the TCP and on a sticky note attached to the radio. Always install fresh, good quality, heavy duty batteries in the radio. Purchase new batteries every trip. Although this seems extravagant, it is a minor expense compared with the severe problem of having a radio fail during an emergency. You should also carry at least one set of spare, fresh batteries and it’s good practice to use the same batteries in any other electronic gadgets you carry such as a GPS unit, flashlight or camera. This way you will have extra batteries in the event of an emergency.

Eugene Interagency Communication Center:

Central Oregon Dispatch:

Basic Vertex Radio Operation

  • Stand in an open space free of overhead trees if possible. Stand Still!
  • Turn the radio on using the OFF-VOL knob on the top. This also adjusts listening volume.
  • Ensure the radio is set to the correct group (16) and repeater you wish to use.
  • Ensure the radio is set to low transmission power (The word “LOW” in the LCD window).
  • Hold the radio with the antenna vertical.
  • Listen for a few moments to ensure there is no other active traffic on the radio.
  • Briefly press and release the talk button on your radio (the largest button on the left side).
  • If you are successfully “hitting” the repeater, you will hear a moment of static and a click from your radio. You will also see a red light (while transmitting), followed by a green
    light (from the repeater signal) on the radio. Do this only once as your transmission is locking up the repeater.
  • If you get “feedback” and the radio cuts out with a loud screech, you probably are overloading the repeater. Check that you have low power set.
  • To transmit, press and hold the talk button.
  • Count two to three seconds to allow the repeater to correctly function.
  • Talk clearly and slowly into the handset.
  • When you have finished, count two seconds again and release the talk button.
  • Wait for at least one minute for a reply before attempting another transmission.

Basic Steps for Radio Communication

  • Conversations start by the caller saying the last name of the person (or Dispatch) she is calling, her own last name, and the name of the channel or repeater she is using on. For example:
    “Smith, this is Daniel on Black Butte” or “Dickey this is Beardsley on Work”
  • Then, the person receiving the call repeats her caller’s name, then their own name: “Dickey, Beardsley” or “Dickey this is Beardsley go ahead”
  • Then the conversation takes place in an efficient, brief manner. Remember that every radio for hundreds of miles can hear you:
    “I am leaving the trail head and am heading back to Bend”
  • Assuming the receiver hears the transmission, they confirm as much: “I copy that. I’ll meet you there.”
  • Finally, the caller signs off with their name, followed by the receiver: “Dickey clear” “Beardsley clear”
  • If you get “tongue tied” in the middle of a conversation, say the word “break” and release the talk button. All listeners will know that you intend to continue the conversation and leave the channel open to you. When you have collected your thoughts, continue with: “Dicky, continuing…”
  • Radio communications are frequently unclear and subject to interference. If the other party can not hear you, try moving your location to higher, open ground. If you eventually give up trying
    to communicate, use a phrase such as: “Smith, no contact”
  • Forest Service staff often have more powerful radios than volunteers or even land lines in the lookout towers. You may receive a call from staff offering to relay a message to Dispatch on your behalf. If you use this method, follow it up.
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