2017 Clewiston Sugar Festival

KI4QIQ, KI4LFF, and some Big Tires

The 31st Clewiston Sugar Festival is in the books, and by most any measure it was a mass-of-humanity good time. Live music, shiny custom cars, old-school steam farm equipment, and food, food, food.

The participating amateur radio operators of Big Lake ARC wore their Reservist colors as Hendry EM representatives working out of the Joint Command Post supporting Hendry County EMS, Clewiston Fire, Montura Fire, Pioneer Fire, Hendry Sheriff’s Office, and Clewiston Police.

Incident Command was Clewiston PD’s Lieutenant Aaron Angell, backed by Clewison PD’s Debi McNeil, Hendry EMS Captain Adrian Damms, Hendry EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, EM Logistics Chief Cristina Mercado, and E-911 Technician Brandi Frame KN4AFW.

Clewiston began as a work-camp during the construction of the Moore Haven and Clewiston Railroad. The railway was acquired by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company (ACL) on July 1, 1925. – – Hendry County, Florida. 1920. Black & white photonegative, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

After the group briefing from Lieutenant Angell, the hams were honored with a personal team briefing outlining their expected duties as support personnel.

KC1FLU set a high bar for net control at the go-box with measured tones, time and station checks, and regular information updates on both the amateurs 446.000 ground frequency, and the local Clewiston 2-meter repeater.

The go-box is a bright yellow Pelican case containing an Alinco DR-635 dual bander and matching 32-amp switched power supply. A Diamond X50A dual-band antenna gets the signal out.

KI4LFF, KM4EWE, and KI4QIQ also set a high performance mark as Rovers, supporting Public Safety teams in the field, and acting as dispatched eyes-on-site for specific areas of the festival.

On three occasions they helped sweep the grounds looking for parents separated from their children, and to help locate a mentally-disabled man for his family. The Rover teams were out the door immediately after a quick briefing, moments after the calls came in for the missing individuals.

They were equipped with County 800-MHz public safety radios for direct communication with the Command Post as well as their UHF amateur communications.

An exercise was planned to simulate a failure of the 800-MHz system. Hams would have been dispatched to the EMS strike teams to act as their communicators. A spike in activity among festival-goers requiring increased attention of Public Safety personnel about the same time led to the decision to postpone the exercise.

KC0SJU wore his Red Cross vest during the festival, manning a responder rehab tent with water and snacks.

Breakfast was served up from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church courtesy of Hendry County EC, WA4PAM.

WD4RCC acted as unit leader for the amateur’s participation in the Sugar Festival, to which all the senior members of Joint Command gave high marks for readiness, flexibility, and cooperation with County and City Public Safety staff.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Depot – Clewiston. 192?. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The takeaways from the deployment were mostly technical. The command post was located in a room that was acoustically highly reflective. The noise level with multiple radios going off simultaneously was taxing the focus of everyone in the room.

Some modifications to the go-box were suggested including a front-firing speaker, or a way to prop the box lid to direct the sound towards the operator. Also, keeping some duct tape in the box to secure power and coaxial cabling to floors and walls in a busy environment.

Unlike February’s Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival that had the hams exceeding the range limits of handy-talkies on UHF simplex along a two mile parade route, the Clewiston Sugar Festival was more compact, all within nine city blocks. (Think a tic-tac-toe grid.) For this deployment, the large Diamond antenna was overkill. A smaller dual band whip attached to a connector mounted through the go-box would have been sufficient.

by Davis, Wally. Aerial view of Clewiston, Florida. 1958. Black & white photoprint, 4 x 5 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

2017 Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival

Swamp Cabbage Festval Logo
Trash Panda Approved!

The Labelle Swamp Cabbage Festival is a February tradition, pulling in more than 6,500 visitors to Hendry County. The 51st edition over the weekend of February 26th and 27th was one of the largest, with over one hundred vendors offering food, drinks, crafts, games, and live music.

Setting up the Big Green Canopy

This year, legacy country band Shenandoah was on the ticket, kicking off their 30th Anniversary Tour, along with two days of entertainment, food, river cruises, food, car shows, and the Swamp Cabbage Parade, Saturday and Sunday, February 25 & 26.

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin briefing EM Reservists

Fifteen members of Big Lake ARC and Hendry CERT worked the Parade Saturday morning, taking assignments at key intersections along the route, and then after the parade, throughout the festival grounds.

KN4AFW performed well as net control, maintaining communications on 446.000 simplex and the local Labelle repeater.

During the parade, one of the Reservists fell ill due to the heat, and the difficulty of moving emergency vehicles through a densely packed parade route was never more clear. A Hendry EMS team checked the Reservist out, and sent him home to rest. Thanks to Belle’s Ice Cream Bar for their hospitality during the action.

A missing child put everyone on alert for a few minutes. KN4AFU and KN4AFV were able to locate the parents within moments of the alert being posted by Sheriff’s dispatch.

Hendry County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Billy Griffin, in a note of appreciation to EM Director Brian Newhouse KJ4WIC, said, “Thank you so much for your assistance during the Swamp Cabbage Festival.  The group of volunteers you have are Top Notch and I enjoyed them immensely .  Please share with them my sincerest Thanks and appreciation for all they did that day to make the 2017 Swamp Cabbage Festival not only successful; but safe as well.  Great job from some even greater people.”

Everglades guide George L. Espenlaub prepares a pot of swamp cabbage (photo circa 1950s). Photo courtesy floridamemory.com.

The takeaway from this event was that 70cm proved to be at the edge of range using handhelds for all functions, including net control at the command post. Future operations will use a higher-powered mobile 70cm at the command post with an external antenna.

But It’s A Dry Cold

Monday, January 18th, and Saturday and Sunday, January 23rd and 24th, Hendry Emergency Management opened cold weather shelters.

The United Way House on Bridge Street in Labelle opened for all three evenings, and the Taylor Auditorium in Clewiston for the first two.

Hendry EM reservists and paid staff all put in time to stock and manage the shelters, from scheduling shifts to driving between Labelle and Clewiston with supplies.

Photo courtesy WD4RCC
Photo courtesy WD4RCC

Temperatures dropped to around 40 at both locations, dangerously cold for anyone outside for an extended period without suitable coverage. Historically, the shelters are not taken advantage of by the homeless population, and those families without the ability to heat their homes. However, the mandate to open them was issued by the BOCC and the department stepped up to the task.

Kudos to the Hendry Sheriff’s Office and the City Police in Clewiston for safety checks on the shelter personnel.

This was not a “ham radio” function. It does, however, underscore the importance of public service volunteers to cross-train, and be as ready as possible to take on any task at any time.

Photo courtesy WD4RCC
Photo courtesy WD4RCC

Followup: Shelters were opened several more times in January and February. Thanks to reservists and our NGO partners!