By Adam MacInnis Enquirer-Herald
01/13/08 – 12:03 AM |
York County firefighters love the new 800 MHz radio system that was implemented late last year — it’s clear and provides communication where they never had it before.
But many dislike the pagers that go with system, calling them unsafe.
Now, the county is turning to plan B.
“They ain’t worth a (darn),” said Hickory Grove Fire Chief Ken Gilfillan of the pagers.
The $23-million radio system replaced an outdated system and links all emergency response personnel across the county. But instead of the voice-activated pagers used in the past, emergency codes are sent to responders on a small display screen on a traditional pager.
This can be dangerous for responders who have to look down to read information or addresses while driving to an emergency, said Charlie Love, Clover fire chief.
“That’s been an issue ever since they started talking about going to the new system,” Love said.
Some departments want to go back to the old paging system, but county leaders say that’s not feasible.
The voice-response pagers aren’t made anymore, said Cotton Howell, director of the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
“The ones that we had gotten before were just junk,” Howell said. “They were worse than toy radios.”
Although not ideal, the new pagers are the best alternative, Howell said.
“We spent a lot of money going back and researching and having engineers go back and look at other options,” Howell said. “That was all they came up with.”
The situation is worse for volunteer firefighters who don’t have a radio in their vehicle.
“For those of us who have a radio, there’s really no problem because we don’t have to worry about the pagers because we’re hearing radio traffic, but for the individual firefighter who has just a pager to respond by, there are some inherent risks to trying to read a pager while driving down the road,” York Fire Chief Domenic Manera said.
New scanners on the way
The York County Board of Rural Fire Control plans to buy new scanners that will allow firefighters to hear radio communications during an emergency. The board has budgeted $116,000 for the scanners and will put out a request for companies to submit bids this week, York County Fire Marshall Randy Thompson said.
Thompson said he hopes to have the new scanners in place within a couple of months.
The cost of the scanners will determine how many are purchased, but Thompson said they should be able to buy about 200. He hopes there will be enough to provide most firefighters who don’t have a radio with a scanner.
“If you have a wreck on the way to the scene, you’re not helping anybody,” he said. “The main thing is you get there, you do your job and you go home. We would never intentionally put someone in harm’s way.”
Meanwhile, the pagers still have a purpose for initial contact about an emergency, Thompson said.
“The pagers are still good if you’re in a meeting, or you’re in church or you’re in a movie theater,” Thompson said. “I’m sure that very few firefighters’ wives want to listen to every radio communication across the county’s radio system.”
With the new pagers, firefighters don’t receive a page unless there is an emergency in their coverage area.
Gilfillan, however, still has issues with the pagers.
Sometimes, the pager messages don’t reach everyone, Gilfillan said. That hasn’t caused a serious problem yet, but it could in the future, he said.
“You hate to be depending on somebody to be there and then them not (show up),” he said.
Howell says poor transmission was a problem initially, but it has improved. He said isolated problems may still occur because of a person’s location.
“They are a little radio receiver, and inside a lot of metal buildings with a lot of steel, that does interfere with radio signals,” he said. “It’s just like a cell phone.”