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Satellite TV to Help Train Firefighters : Communications: Ten-foot dish will let crews at the new county fire station in Rancho Palos Verdes tune in to the latest instructional programs.


An unexpected accouterment graces a new county fire station in Rancho Palos Verdes. Standing in the yard outside Station No. 83, which will be dedicated Jan. 10, is a 10-foot-diameter satellite dish.

Lest skeptics fret that the Los Angeles County Fire Department has succumbed to needless luxury, department officials promise that the new high-tech receptor--more commonly associated with remote broadcasts of sporting events and with shadowy foreign films--will serve as a training device for the firefighters.

The dish will allow the station to view a variety of training programs for firefighters produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The programs, which cover such topics as cleaning up toxic chemical spills, treating trauma victims and fighting brush fires, are beamed by the agency's Emergency Education Network in Emmitsburg, Md., to a satellite.

Fire departments around the country can retrieve the information if they have a dish, said Sue Downin, executive producer of the agency's programs.

Over any 10-month period, the agency typically produces 15 programs of about 4 1/2 hours each.

Earlier this year, Downin said, the satellite beamed a veritable blockbuster in firefighting circles--five consecutive days of nine-hour broadcasts on how to clean up hazardous materials. An estimated 100,000 viewers watch live broadcasts of the various training programs and as many as 150,000 more see them later on videotape.

The county paid $3,000 for the satellite dish at the Rancho Palos Verdes Station and about the same for dishes at stations in Commerce and Bell Gardens.

Los Angeles County fire officials said buying satellite dishes will prove cheaper in the long run than sending employees to training sessions in Maryland or ordering videotapes of the sessions at $75 to $100 each.

Satellite dishes will be purchased for a few more of the county's new fire stations as they are built, said Randy Gomez, construction coordinator for the department. Stations with dishes will be expected to invite firefighters from neighboring stations to view the training programs, or to make videotapes for their use, Gomez said.

The firefighters concede that the satellite dishes may also help them find recreational programming.

"I haven't seen anything foreign on there yet," said Capt. Ray McDermott of the Rancho Palos Verdes station. "We are just getting into a new station and getting the bugs worked out, so people aren't really locked in on the satellite yet."

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