Fire Chiefs discuss Need for Improved Radio Communication
The Caldwell County commissioners met with the fire chiefs and various firemen and emergency personnel at the Hamilton fire station in Hamilton last Tuesday evening. There were approximately 25 emergency responders and firemen present from seven different fire departments in the area. The meeting was to discuss problems that the various fire departments have been having in communicating with the 911 dispatch in Kingston. Portions of Caldwell County have no reception or very poor reception from the 911 dispatch. This can be a serious issue when the fire departments are on the scene of a fire or emergency situation and are unable to transmit from their mobile radio’s or from their hand held units back to central dispatch.
One possible solution may be to place additional repeaters at strategic locations in the county that would reach the four corners of the county. Due to the terrain of Caldwell County, there are several “dead spots”, especially in the southwest area of the county south of highway 116. The Braymer area is also the lowest area of the county and sets in a “hole”. The Braymer Fire Department does have a repeater located on the Braymer water tower that does help with local communication in the Braymer area, but still has difficulty reaching Kingston 911 dispatch. George Pease, Caldwell County EMD reported that he had been in contact with Midwest Mobile and that they were currently evaluating how to improve reception. The proposal was to have four 75 to 100 watt repeaters located on towers or structures that would be high enough to reach the base station in Kingston. The repeaters would need to be from 100 to 120 feet in the air on higher elevations. Each repeater should extend out to approximately a twenty mile overlapping radius to cover the county.
Pease reported that there are several different types of repeater systems that may be used. Some would require a different frequency for each of the repeaters for each quadrant of the county. Others systems would require a “voter” device to transmit to the multiple receiving sites for mutual aid. Some systems would only allow for receiving, while others would allow for both receiving and transmitting. There are also “in-vehicle repeaters” that may be used as a cheaper alternative, but will only reach out ten to fifteen miles. They do have the advantage that they would be “on-site” repeaters that would transmit from the emergency personnel hand held radio to a primary “in-vehicle” repeater which would then transmit to the central dispatch in Kingston.
The proposed repeaters are projected to cost approximately $20,000 per repeater. In addition to the repeaters, there would also be installation expenses. The feed line from the repeater at the top of a 120 foot tower to the ground would cost approximately $18.00 per foot, or over $1800 per repeater. Each repeater would also need to be equipped with lightning resisters and would need to be insured. Each of the fire departments and emergency responders would also need to have their local radio communications programmed to receive the various repeater frequencies. The total system would probably cost in the $90,000 to $100,000 range installed.
How to fund the repeater project was a source of major discussion. Most of the local volunteer fire departments operate on a very limited budget and depend on donations and community fund raisers and dues. The 911 funds that use to come from a fee collected on land line phones have diminished with the increased use of cell phones and many people have dropped their land lines. The whole 911 system is in danger of being discontinued if additional 911 funding cannot be found. The state legislature has proposed placing a fee on cell phones for 911 supports, as approximately 75 percent of the 911 calls are received from cell phone, but has failed to get it passed in congress. There are a few grants, but most are very competitive and very specific for application guidelines. There is also the local Lloyd Wallace Foundation that may help with community wide projects in Caldwell County for financial assistance. Local banks and businesses already help most of the local volunteer fire departments but may be willing to assist for better community fire protection and communications. Some of the companies that manufacture the repeaters do have a low interest loan program that will help communities finance the system with a 3 to 5 year payback. Local banks may also be willing to provide low interest loans for community project for the benefit of the whole community.
The Caldwell county commissioners stated that they would look at the various financial options that may be available. The project may need to be adopted in stages with the areas of the county that have the greatest problem being addressed first as finances are available. Available sites for repeater locations will be discussed and evaluated.