The following are the most commonly asked questions from QFRS and QAS officers

  1. Why does only one pager activate ... ?
  2. How far will my pager operate ... ?
  3. How does my pager operate ...?
  4. What are the three letters in front of the pager message ...?
  5. What messages are generated by the picocell ...?
  6. How long will the battery last in the picocell  ...?
  7. What is a messaging number ... ?

Why does only one pager activate... ?

The main reason is low battery.

Pagers will alert the wearer if the battery is low. Quite often this is in the early hours of the morning. Battery voltage is dependent on temperature. It drops as the battery temperature drops. So in the coolest part of the day the battery cools dropping the voltage to below the safe operating level and so it will set the battery alert. This problem is most predominant in tone only pagers. Display pagers will often indicate low battery on the screen so the wearer is aware of the type of alert.


Arrange regular battery replacements before the battery level drops too much. In general a pager should operate for 4 weeks. Monthly replacements should eliminate the problem.

When replacing batteries always ensure the battery is an alkaline battery. Only these types can supply the current demands of a pager. Be wary of cut price batteries as these may have poor shelf life.

How far will my pager operate ... ?

This is a difficult question to answer as there are many factors that influence the pager coverage area. The two main areas to consider are the transmission and the reception properties.

The transmission is optimized at installation time and is based on the layout of the station where the paging transmitter is located and the requirements of the pager wearers and were they spent the bulk of their time. These properties are stable and very rarely change but changes do occur. A good example is where an antenna located at the Boonah Fire Station was hit by lightning but continued to operate perfectly. A hole in the radom (the white fiberglass outer shell) caused by the lightning eventually allowed rain to seep into the radom. After two years the base of the antenna rusted and slowly degraded the effectiveness of the antenna.

Transmission factors:

The most obvious is the terrain. There are some sites where the topography is quite flat and the pagers work up to 20-30 kilometers from the station. There are other sites where it only works 1-2 kilometres.

The height of the antenna is the next most important factor. Obviously the higher the better. In general a height of 60 feet or higher is best.

Reception factors:

The battery level will affect the pager sensitivity. Do not wait for the pager to indicate it has a flat battery. In some pager models we tested the sensitivity can drop by half when the battery is near the flat battery alert level.

Man made objects such as sheet metal enclosures such as garages, sheds, walk in fridge freezers, lifts etc all cause the reception to be diminished.

Water. Pagers and water do not mix. This includes moisture from bathrooms.

Any type of physical abuse can degrade the pager sensitivity. Pagers do not work perfectly or stop. There can be many levels of degradation.

Taking all these factors into consideration the best way to check reception is to do regular weekly checks at distances greater than a few kilometers from the transmitter.

How does my pager operate ... ?

There are now Adobe .pdf available to view for the latest pagers user guides.

click here to view Pager User Guides

What are the three letters in front of the pager message ... ?

There are nearly always three letters then a full colon at the beginning of every message you receive and its called a Pcode.  A Pcode indicates where the pager message was transmitted from. e.g. if you were to receive on your pager     "TUL: Test message" then the message came from the Mt Mackay transmitter near Tully in North Queensland. There is a Pcode for every site in Queensland. If the message was sent by the Orange or Hutchison network then either a H: or HUT: pcode will appear.

click here to see Pcode List


What messages are generated by the picocell ... ?

There are many messages generated by the picocell. In these examples it will be messages for the Airlie Beach picocell.

These messages are only delivered to the captain and lieutenants. If there is no separate captains pager then the auxiliary group will receive the message.

If no one receives these message below then advise MTEL immediately. The messages are fault conditions which if not attended to can be detrimental to the turnout capability of the picocell.


The most likely one to receive is power failure indication. This will occur after about 70 seconds from the loss of mains power. Shorter breaks will be transparent to the picocell.

The message should read;


When the power is returned the picocell will page immediately;


As a general rule it is not a bad idea to try this on training nights. Turn off the picocell at the mains power point for about two hours then turn it back on. Both messages should be received.

During prolonged power outages you may receive a message;

AIRLIE BEACH PICOCELL BATTERY FLAT: Operational failure is imminent.

In this case the power has either been absent for a very long period typically greater than 8 hours. The battery is becoming exhausted and will requiring charging soon.

This message will also be generated if the battery life is near exhaustion. Typically these gel lead acid batteries last from 3 to 5 years. What promotes the destruction of these batteries is extreme heat and cold, over charging, under charging or several deep discharges > 12 hours.

If the picocell is to endure long absences of power than a generator can be used to keep the picocell running. Typically one hour running every 6 hours will keep the battery charged sufficiently.

If the battery has been discharged to the point above, then when power is returned a message will be generated;


This means the power supply has started and the battery is recharging.


Up to now all the messages relate to power conditions in the picocell.

The next message is due to the communications between the Firecom Centre and the Picocell. If the communications during a turnout has been disrupted the picocell will after 70 seconds reset it self internally and generate the following message;

Warning: Picocell has cleared an internal fault: PET timer expired

This is simply a warning. It says and internal communications protocol (Page Entry Terminal protocol or PET for short) timer has expired. That is the communications did not complete as intended. It has simply reset all the internal timers and variables ready for the next turnout.

It pages the captain so that if it occurs more than once every six months, then there could be a problem. If this message is generated always contact MTEL.

There is a similar message to the last one but it is extremely rare and means the system has actually locked up internally then cleared itself.

Warning: Picocell has cleared an internal fault: BUS timer expired

Once again if you get this message advise MTEL immediately.

The picocell will also generate alarm messages however these are tailored to the picocell site. You must contact MTEL to confirm what these messages will be.

How long will the battery last in the picocell ... ?

The battery should last 12 hours without mains power.

What can influence the life of the battery are the age, state of charge in the last 12 hours and the amount of paging use while in battery mode.

If the picocell is going to experience power outages for known periods such as maintenance then a generator can be used to keep the picocell operational. Typically one hour running every 6 hours will keep the battery charged sufficiently.

The age of the battery is normally marked or scratched into the front face. If not advise MTEL as we may have records of the last change.

MTEL has a maintenance program that replaces all batteries inside 3 to 5 years of age.

What is a messaging number ... ?

Currently there are three types of pager numbers in a picocell.

The "Auxiliary" or "Turnout number" is in every picocell. It is the number that pagers all the auxiliary fireman in one instant. All auxiliary fireman pagers will have the same number. The number though is different in every picocell so that neighboring picocells will not affect each others auxiliary groups.

The second type of number is the "Captains number". As the name suggests it is just for the captain. There are some auxiliary groups though that have lieutenants as well and sometimes these fireman are also on the captains group number. Nearly every site has a captains number. If you do not have a captains number then contact MTEL.

Finally there is the "Messaging number". This is only used where picocells are connected to the local alarming equipment. Some alarming equipment will activate the siren if the auxiliaries do not attend the station in a predetermined time after a turnout message has been sent from Firecom. However not all messages sent to the picocell are for turnouts. Some are just general messaging such as a change in time for training. In this case the messaging number is used by Firecom rather than the turnout number to avoid activating the siren sequence.



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Last modified: 09-Jul-2020