Man accused of interfering with firefighter radios faces $34,000 fine

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed a major fine against the man accused of interfering with radios directing aircraft over the Johnson Creek Fire.

The Johnson Creek Fire burned more than 1,300 acres in 2021 and is part of the larger Leland Complex fire in northern Idaho.

The FCC proposed a $34,000 fine against Jason Frawley, claiming he interfered with radio communications being used to direct firefighters in the area near Elk River, Idaho.

“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 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.

On the second day of interference, in July of 2021, a Forest Service supervisor reportedly drove to the airstrip and told Frawley to stop all interference. 

Frawley is the owner and operator of an amateur radio station, WA7CQ, and the FCC said he admitted to interfering. 

“Frawley has argued to the Commission that he did not mean any harm and only intended to assist the firefighting crews by providing them with specific 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,” according to a press release from the FCC on Wednesday.

His alleged interference came in a summer that the state said brought an unprecedented number of wildfires with a shortage of available firefighters.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel issued the following statement on the case Wednesday:

“If you drive six hours north of Boise, you’ll reach Elk River, Idaho.  It’s the quintessential small town.  On Main Street, you’ll find the city hall and library and if you head around the corner, you’ll see the fire department.

“Fires are all too common in places like this in the Northwest.  Back in July 2021 a wildfire ravaged more than 1,000 acres just outside of Elk River.  It was an all-hands effort to contain these flames.  The town had help from the United States Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Lands.  To keep the community safe, these authorities worked together to address the burning acreage and coordinate with aircraft in the skies above.  To do this, they relied on radio communications.  In other words, they sought to use public airwaves to keep the public safe.  But their efforts were thwarted by an amateur radio operator who was unlawfully transmitting on frequencies dedicated to public safety. 

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. “

The FCC’s actions, called a notice of apparent liability for forfeiture, alleges that Frawley broke the law and should receive a monetary penalty. He will have the opportunity to respond and offer any evidence or legal arguments for the commission to consider.

In May, Idaho Department of Lands Fire Management Bureau Chief Josh Harvey joined the Idaho Reports podcast to discuss this year’s fire season. Listen to that here:

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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