Technical platform for emergency radios remains an unresolved issue; talks to continue
by Rachael Griffin
rgriffin@annistonstar.com
Feb 21, 2013 | 4053 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JACKSONVILLE — Calhoun County volunteer fire departments and 911 operators are no closer to agreeing on a method of dispatch after the discussion was tabled at a 911 board meeting Thursday.

The board held an executive session for half an hour to discuss topics Matt Lowery, board chairman, said are “not being litigated, but could end up being litigated.”

Board members would not discuss anything said during the executive session after its conclusion. A motion to continue the radio platform discussion after speaking with the County Commission and volunteer fire departments at a later date was approved.

During the period the board was in executive session, Van Roberts Sr., fire chief for Quad Cities, said he’s concerned he’ll lose firefighters if the volunteer fire departments switch to the 800 MHz radio. Roberts said the 911 board’s proposal of having two “talk groups” for all 10 rural fire departments could deter people from volunteering because the 800 MHz talk group would require firefighters to listen to calls outside their coverage area at night, Roberts said.

“Members with young kids won’t want to listen to a radio all night,” Roberts said.

The chief is also concerned it will cause firefighters to simply turn the radio off at night, which could mean missing an emergency call.

Roberts said the UHF radio currently used by most of the volunteer fire departments allows a firefighter to use an option called “night page,” which only alerts a specific fire department.

“Unless we get called my radio isn’t talking all night,” Roberts said.

With Quad Cities volunteer fire department averaging 300 calls last year on its own, listening to extra radio calls could be troublesome to firefighters.

Roberts maintains that cost is the other factor causing the volunteer fire departments to balk. He said the volunteer fire departments operate on a $1 million budget, split 10 ways. Roberts said there’s not enough money to operate a station and pay the fee of $22.50 per month per radio required to use the 800 MHz radios.

Roberts said the fire chiefs have spoken to the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office about dispatching for the volunteer fire departments. There would be fees involved, Roberts said, but he was unsure as of Thursday evening how much they would be. The chiefs are still undecided which dispatch route they will take, but a lawyer was hired by the volunteer fire association, Roberts said.

During an Alabama Regional Communication System meeting earlier in the month, the board voted to have the volunteer fire departments’ idea of bridging the two radio platforms together studied by the Technical Advisory Committee before it was installed for a test.

Alan Watson, chairman of the radio board and Talladega’s police chief, said by phone Thursday that the Technical Advisory Committee has discovered “some issues” with the bridge, which will be discussed at the radio board’s next meeting in March.

Watson said the bridge “takes up too much space,” meaning it uses more than one channel to communicate. The 800 MHz platform has fewer than 20 channels and multiple agencies using them, the chairman said.

Watson said he believes the board will make a decision regarding the bridge in March.

“I don’t see it, from what I understand, to be a difficult decision,” Watson said.

Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.

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