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SKYWARN's John Fertsch (left) and Scott Wolfe

Amateur radio operators hold exercise in Tallassee

By Michael Butler

The Tallassee Fire Department Training Center served as the site for the Elmore County Amateur Radio Society’s Winter Field Day.  The exercise was on Saturday, Jan. 27.

“My background was Air Force Security Forces,” Emergency Coordinator Randy Bridges said. “Alabama Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) came about around 2012. The tornado event probably spearheaded it.”

SKYWARN, a program of the National Weather Service, had a testing station In Tallassee on Saturday.
“Even during the recent winter storm we were out taking bridge temps,” John Fertsch of SKYWARN noted. “People wanted to know, ‘When is this going to be unfrozen?’”

Bob B. Demas was in town on Saturday. Last October, he was in Bayou La Batre during Hurricane Nate delivering meals and saw first-hand the advantage of amateur radio operators.

“These guys were telling us which roads were closed,” Demas said.

ARES works closely with emergency management agencies and is a division of the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), a national association. ARRL assisted with providing communication services for victims of last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico.

To prepare for such events, Alabama simulated emergency tests are performed annually.

 “When I was 13, I wanted so much to get my ham license. I didn’t get it,” said Howard Marshall, who has been an amateur radio guy now for more than a decade. “Out of high school I got into the military.  Afterwards I became a technician for Motorola.”

Marshall tells of the time he participated in the Alabama QSO Party, a contest for amateur radio operators.

“I got third place,” Marshall remembered of the statewide competition. “The guy who won it lived in Tennessee.”

Bragg (front) and alternate emergency coordinator Trent Davis on the handle in the backdrop man the stations on Saturday

Steve Bragg is the assistant coordinator with the Elmore County Amateur Radio Society. Bragg is also an engineer at Neptune and lives in Tallassee.

Bragg connected with a least a few dozen ham operators across the U.S. and one in British Columbia in Canada during Saturday’s exercise. He also attempted to connect with the International Space Station, which is approximately 220 miles above the earth. The conditions were not ideal this go-round, but Bragg has had success previously.

“One Sunday, I took this little radio and antenna and held it up all of a sudden I start hearing the tones that indicate a picture,” Bragg said. “An app recorded the picture, and there it was - a picture from the space station.

“The space station is the biggest object in our sky besides the sun and the moon. It’s brighter than all the other stars.”

Gov. Kay Ivey has issued a proclamation designating “AL2C” as the amateur radio call sign to commemorate Alabama’s 200th birthday in 2019.

Bridges thanked the Tallassee Fire Department for its cooperation, as well as the Elmore County Emergency Management.

The Elmore County Amateur Radio Society meets the second Monday of each month at the Elmore County Emergency Management Operations Center in Wetumpka. For more information, e-mail: visit their Facebook page: or call 334-221-4732.

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