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FCC Proposes to Fine Ham for Firefighting Interference

Jason Frawley told commission he was trying to help

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to fine an amateur radio operator for alleged interference with firefighting efforts in Idaho last year.

It said Jason Frawley, WA7CQ, apparently interfered with radio communications that were guiding fire suppression aircraft working the “Johnson fire” near Elk River. It said that he used his amateur hand-held radio eight times over two days on frequencies allocated and authorized for government use.

Frawley later told the FCC he was only trying to help.

The $34,000 fine would the largest of its kind, the commission said in issuing its notice of apparent liability. All four commissioners approved the NAL. Frawley now has the opportunity to respond, and the FCC would then consider final action.

Commenting on the notice, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel wrote: “You can’t interfere with public safety communications. Full stop. So today we propose the largest fine of its type for this interference that put fire suppression and public safety itself at risk.”

“Comm tech”

The U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands were fighting the 1,000-acre wildfire on national forest land.

“As firefighting crews from the Forest Service and Idaho Department of Land worked to fight the wildfire, Forest Service radio communications received eight unauthorized transmissions on government frequencies from an individual identifying himself as ‘comm tech,’” the FCC said in its announcement.

“The individual interfered with communications between fire suppressant aircraft and ground crews by communicating his observations of hazards near the Elk Butte airstrip, where he and his radio equipment were located.”

According to the FCC account, a Forest Service supervisor drove to the airstrip, identified Frawley as the person and told him to stop.

“Mr. Frawley admitted to the supervisor to broadcasting on government frequencies as ‘comm tech.’ Mr. Frawley subsequently admitted to his conduct in a taped interview with an agent from the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations Branch at his residence and in response to an FCC letter of inquiry which followed a Forest Service complaint to the commission.”

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The commission says Frawley — the owner of Leader Communications, licensee of eight microwave licenses and one business license — told the FCC he did not mean harm and instead meant to help the firefighters by providing them with details regarding Elk Butte.

“Regardless of the intent, the FCC finds that the apparent willful violations cannot be overlooked as interfering with authorized radio communications — and especially public safety related communications — is a serious violation of the law and can put lives and property at risk.”