Local radio operators work where cellphones don’t

Members of the Adirondack Amateur Radio Association helped bring communications in areas without cellphone service Saturday during the Tinman triathlon in Tupper Lake. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

TUPPER LAKE — Ask anyone who lives, works or vacations in the Adirondacks knows, cellphone service is spotty at best in some places. So when hundreds or even thousands of people sign up for an event that takes them into no man’s land, how do they call for help if needed?

For events like the 90-Miler, ‘Round the Mountain canoe race and Saturday’s Tupper Lake’s Tinman triathlon, event organizers look to the Adirondack Amateur Radio Association to provide communications where phones won’t work.

AARA has members from around the North Country, and the federally-licensed radio operators come equipped with portable radios that are capable of reaching local emergency rooms, state police and forest rangers. During Saturday’s Tinman race, AARA was stationed at aid stations along the bike route, which takes athletes from Tupper Lake toward Cranberry Lake — where little to no cell reception exists.

“Today we’re doing communications from all of the aid stations, both along the bike course and the run course,” Jim Purcell of St. Regis Falls said. “We’re providing health and welfare communications, so we’re here if someone needs something, we can help them.

“We’re not providing first aid, but we’ll call 911. We’ll communicate with either St. Lawrence County or Franklin County so they can get the emergency services out there. A lot of these locations don’t have cellphone service so our radios are set up so we can communicate.”

Barry Brogan, left, gives a briefing to Adirondack Amateur Radio Association members before the start of the Tinman triathlon in Tupper Lake on Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Purcell explained that AARA’s radios work where cell phones don’t, either because of a lack of towers or because of the topography of the Adirondacks.

“It would be really tough here with all the hills and the mountains,” he said. “Where the cellphones don’t work, they would not be getting communications through; they would have to send somebody.”

Tom Dick, an AARA member who lives in Lake Placid, said he enjoys using his radio skills to help out on local events.

“I’ve been here since it was founded,” Dick said. “This is a really good club. It’s great. It’s nice to see the community, and we like doing this because it’s applicable. Cellphone communications up here is spotty at best.

“You know what you’re going to get — you’re going to get good coverage, you’re going to get good communications. The amateurs provide this, and we’re happy to help out the communities. It’s great, because we get to put something back into our communities.”

AARA members are all federally licensed, and the group offers a free licensing course each spring.