Eastpoint Fire Chief George Pruett has been pressing for the county to remedy a problem created nearly two months ago, when a lightning strike disabled the network that enables swift communication among county firefighters.
After first introducing the matter at a special meeting at the end of last month, he spoke again at the Nov. 6 meeting. “It’s a dangerous situation, a life-safety situation,” he said. “If I need help I can’t pick that radio up and call.
“I still have a cell phone but that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Pruett said.
Renee Brannan, who is in charge of the 911 dispatch system for the sheriff’s office, told commissioners that Williams Communication provided the department with an emergency radio and gave each fire department one radio apiece to communicative with dispatch.
“We are able to page them on their cell phone. They go to emergency radio and talk to dispatch,” she said.
County Coordinator Michael Moron has been looking into how best to address the problems, examining price quotes to see what it could cost the county.
In a letter this week, Pruett said that he believed putting the fire departments on 800 megaherz radios “would be a very expensive and unacceptable solution to the problem. The fire departments in Franklin County use the VHF Fire net not only to communicate with the dispatch center and each other, but also to page out calls and communicate with other fire departments and the State Division of Forestry, in wildland fire situations.“
Pruett said he spoke with Zetron Communications in Washington state, the company that builds the communications console at the dispatch center and was assured that the console can indeed accommodate VHF/UHF communications with the addition of a module or board.
“The problem is not with Zetron with but either with Williams Communications or the county government offices that refuse to let the fire departments decide what is best for our operations,“ he wrote.
In his reply, Sheriff A. J. Smith said he has asked Williams Communications for a detailed quote on what it will cost to fix the vhf system and bring it to an acceptable standard.
“I was told much of the equipment is outdated and parts are hard to obtain, and that coaxial cable on the tower is damaged,” Smith wrote.
“I agree the length of time the system has been down is not acceptable. But understand the sheriff’s office just dispatches for the fire departments,” he wrote, noting that the sheriff’s office doesn’t maintain the equipment or have money budgeted to repair or replace fire department’s equipment, a task that falls on the shoulders of the county.
He said the loaner radios to assist with call outs “is not the most efficient way to handle your call outs.
“Your vhf radios will enable you to communicate at fire scenes. I, like you, want this repaired for the safety of the community as quickly as possible,” he wrote to Pruett. “Again, it’s not my responsibility nor do I want to pick what radio system the fire departments operate on. I am here to assist you in any way possible.”