STAMFORD — A portable radio is perhaps the most used — and abused — piece of equipment in a first responder’s arsenal.
The devices get run over by cars, dropped into the Long Island Sound, toted into burning buildings and dosed by fire hoses.
Stamford has about 1,300 working handheld radios across the police department, the city’s five paid fire departments and six volunteer companies, EMS and its operations department, which includes animal control, security guards, street plows, the health department and a few other entities.
Considering the 10-year-old radios are nearing their lifespan, officials are concerned Stamford may soon experience a shortage in devices as the next class of police recruits hits the streets.
“The system itself, the backbone of the system, is fully up to date,” Stamford Police Capt. Greg Tomlin said. “However, we’re going into our 10th year (with these portable radios), and we have been notified that parts for these radios are going to become unavailable soon.”
The city uses Motorola XTS 2500 portable radios, which have since gone out of production, making replacements and parts scarce and repairs costlier and more time consuming.
Three years ago, Tomlin said the Office of Public Safety requested 100 new radios for the fire department. The radios each cost about $5,000, and $600,000 was approved in the budget. But the money was never bonded and could not be used.
“If the funding was approved this year, we’d have to re-evaluate because you want to buy a radio at the beginning of its life, that way you have 10 to 15 years before repairing or replacing parts becomes difficult,” Stamford Fire Chief Trevor Roach said. “Right now, we’re taking radios out of the health department and out of the fire department’s cache to get the police what they need.”
Ted Jankowski, director of Public Safety, Health and Welfare, said the Office of Public Safety has requested another $600,000 to complete the 911 Communications Public Safety Radio Network infrastructure upgrade.
Jankowski said the requests will likely be addressed during this year’s budget process, but that doesn’t guarantee the money will be bonded.
“This capital project has been prioritized by the Office of Public Safety and we are hopeful that it will survive the completion of the budget process,” Jankowski said. “Once approved through the budget process, the next step will be the bonding process to obtain the funds.”
Jay Fountain, director for the Office of Policy and Management, said the $60 million new police building and $15 million allotment for the Strawberry Hill School “have put us behind in the ability to fund other projects.”
“We will be considering the bond issue in June, but there are a lot of competing items,” Fountain said. “We have about $30 million of authorized funds that have not been bonded, plus another $20 million in this capital budget, and we can only issue about $25 million in bonds. So, we have $50 million competing for $25 million in bonds.”
While city officials struggle to find funds for large-scale replacements, Roach said a pilot project for 20 radios has been approved for the fire department.
Roach said the fire department will begin using 20 Harris XL-200 radios, which each cost about $4,500. The pilot program will free up 20 of the old radios for the police to use.
Roach said once the bond money is available, the fire department will begin phasing out the old radios and giving spares to the police.
Jankowski said the purchase of new radios will likely be done in phases over several years.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Tomlin said. “Let’s say we replaced 20 right now. Those 20 radios could cover new incoming officers and free up 20 older radios as spares.”