SCITUATE – Dead zones that have long plagued the Scituate Fire Department communication system will be addressed by the end of December, says Fire Chief John Robinson of the Hope Jackson Fire Company.
The size of the town and its diverse geography has led to communication issues and dead zones in all four fire departments in Scituate, according to the chief. He said the system has seen repairs through the years, but it’s time to “revamp the entire radio system.”
“This is really great. I’m glad we had the opportunity to do this. We had a few upgrades over the years but none of them really solved the problem,” Robinson said.
The catalyst for getting the repairs done correctly occurred during a February house fire on Matteson Road where communications between responders on the ground and firefighters inside the building went out.
Potterville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Greenway said the moments with the firefighters inside the building unable to communicate with commanders on the ground was frustrating and dangerous. Though crew members were as close as 20 feet from each other, they were unable to communicate instructions or warn of any approaching dangers.
“It was dangerous, tough. It brought it all to a head,” Robinson said.
Previous communication worked off a comparator system that would direct the signal to whichever of the two towers had more strength. The old system’s directional antenna combined with a low-frequency microwave signal often did not make it over the elevated terrain, creating pockets of communication dead zones in many of the valleys.
“It just wasn’t effective,” Robinson said.
The new simulcast system, which Robinson said should be completed soon, will have three transmitters simultaneously communicating with all receivers.
In total, the Town Council approved spending $118,310 for 14 mobile vehicle repeaters, and updated digital radio box receivers using funds from the fire department communication equipment fund approved in the town budget.
Each truck will be equipped with an onboard repeater that will pick up portable radios at the scene of an incident, boost the signal, and transmit to devices and dispatch directly from the truck.
Robinson said the new devices will impact the town “quite directly.”
“It will provide a whole new level of safety. It will allow commanders to communicate effectively to firefighters inside the building, and out to dispatch, especially important in the case of a ‘mayday’ or to request for mutual aid,” Robinson said.
Speaking about the radio box receivers, Chopmist Hill Volunteer Fire Department Chief Keith Brown said the system can be joined by other town entities to create a more connected communication network between the schools, police, fire and Town Hall.
“It is much more cost effective to buy new units with upgraded capabilities for something like this than you would have to do anyway in the near future,” Brown said.
Also, the council authorized the Potterville Fire Station to refurbish the Potterville tanker truck 51 for $95,584, and $30,000 for the Hope Jackson Fire Company to purchase 10 sets of gear, replacing older and worn out equipment.
Some residents questioned the current council doing this kind of spending in its final weeks together, but Robinson said all of the equipment is necessary, and paid for through town-approved capital funds. He said the firefighter gear is replaced incrementally over the years to not overburden the community.
He said recent upgrades help the department stay in step with National Fire Protection Association standards, protect the firefighters, and reduce liabilities for the town.
“We do our best to stay within the standards set and stay as close to guidelines as we can to keep our guys safe,” Robinson said.
He said the fire chiefs knows the upgrades are expensive, but there is always a balance.
“We really try to make a concerted effort to choose what will provide us the highest level of benefit and protection for the monies spent,” he said.