By Andy Simek
SULLIVAN COUNTY July 21, 2006 So heres the scenario: youre driving down any given road in Sullivan County, and the conditions are a little less than ideal.
You take a turn a bit faster than you should; maybe youre thinking about a fight youve just had, or perhaps youre late for a party.
The car slips off the road, wrecking your vehicle and breaking your leg and injuring your back.
No cell phone service (what a surprise); no nearby houses (as if you could walk there, anyway); no way to communicate; and no help in sight.
But here comes a car! Maybe they can drive you to the hospital . . . or maybe they can make matters worse by moving a person with possible spinal injuries.
The car pulls off to the shoulder, the driver asks if youre alright and gets on what looks like a walkie-talkie.
You hear a dial-tone, then ringing and then the voice of a 9-1-1 operator.
This Good Samaritan has just pulled some sort of phone service out of the ether and has called for an ambulance and a tow truck. When help arrives, he fades off into the night without a bit of compensation, except for the feeling that he helped a person in need.
Who was that?
It was an amateur radio operator.
Sullivan County is home to a large group of amateur radio operators, or hams as they call themselves.
This group of hobbyists numbers approximately 700,000 in the United States alone.
Hams transcend all social ranking, age groups, political affiliations and international boundaries; the world-wide network truly encompasses a huge slice of the global pie.
They communicate with each other on a limited and carefully portioned section of the UHF, VHF and microwave bandwidths.
Unlike Citizens Band (CB) radio, the FCC must grant ham radio operators a license for broadcasting on the airwaves.
Now, one might ask oneself, Why would you need a license for a hobby?
There are several answers to this query, one of which is the importance of having competent individuals broadcasting on the air.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a slogan it uses: When all else fails . . . Amateur Radio.
Hams more often than not play key roles in passing on emergency information, even when all other means of communication are unavailable.
During the recent flooding, hams from all over the region flocked to Sullivan County to help in disaster communications.
Grahamsville was a hotspot of ham activity during this time. With its high elevation, the several high-powered radio repeaters on Thunder Hill sent out information to the 911 center at the Sullivan County Airport, providing crucial help to local rescue squads and the American Red Cross.
Don Daggett and Bob Mott are two of the ham operators who offered their assistance.
Daggett, who along with reporting poor conditions to the National Weather Service also volunteers for the local ambulance squad, says the hams dont want a pat on the back for their services, but they do want the public to be informed on the role that they play.
Mott explained that for more than a week the Red Cross was using their equipment, their manpower and their expertise.
Mott was out in the field with the Red Cross command vehicles, with hams from Dutchess, Pike, Ulster and even Westchester counties driving around with their portable repeaters, reporting to net control when people needed food, water or other rescue services.
Daggett, whose call sign is WC2E, was on the technical end at the top of Thunder Hill, making sure that the repeater was working correctly and fixing any problems on the system as needed.
Were not looking for a lot of recognition, Daggett said, but the Red Cross took all the credit, when it was the hams reporting a lot of the problems. They didnt even mention us.
Sherman Leifer, W2FLA, put up his own tower for his love of the hobby as well as for his concern for the community.
Leifer said that having your own tower is the kind of thing you dream about when youre a kid.
The tower actually is almost something out of a dream.
While most towers have rotating radio transceivers on top for communicating to different parts of the globe, Leifers entire tower rotates.
Seeing a rotating 125-foot tower with a two-meter commercial-grade radio transceiver mounted on the top is quite the sight to behold, and a little unbelievable.
A little more believable is the amount of work that goes in to putting up your own tower.
Leifer said that a massive amount of coordination is involved with the Tri-State Coordinating Council, which must grant operators a certain frequency, and determine if each ones antenna site will interfere with others in the area.
For any interested hams, Leifers Echolink node number is 146625, and his transceiver operates on 146.025 MHz (input) and 146.625 MHz (output).
Making up for the dead-zone of cell service that is Sullivan County is worth it, however, according to Leifer, due to the help it offers emergency services.
Not only did Leifer help out in the floods, he also relayed information for the families of victims during Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami that hit Indonesia and even has a claim to fame for ham communications during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This wide range of communication ability is what draws hams to the hobby to begin with.
In one afternoon, Mott, Leifer or Daggett could all be talking to one another from their houses a few miles apart, or they could be talking with a ham from Japan, Switzerland, Africa, Australia or literally any other place on the globe.
Leifer said that many hams from around the globe philosophize that if more hams were elected into office, most of the worlds problems would come to an end.
The community is widespread but close-knit.
Its a hobby that transcends every country in the world, Leifer said.