Exasperation and a great deal of concern surrounds the county’s new digital emergency radio system, that was supposed to be a beacon in the night for emergency service workers throughout the outlying areas in the county.
Instead of getting what they had hoped for, however, some fire departments and police officers are feeling literally disconnected from the help they may need.
Over the past three years, the county has been working toward replacing its outdated emergency radio system. They system had been failing to connect those out in the field to the dispatching center. The center provides dispatching services for all county and municipal law enforcement agencies, fire departments, emergency medical services and a variety of other public safety agencies.
The county purchased a new digital system from Kenwood USA Corporation in 2009 soon after Auburn Fire Chief Jeff Gregory had a gun pointed at him, which luckily misfired. Gregory reported that when he ran from the assailant he could not get through to dispatch to call for help.
Unfortunately, according to several firemen and police, the new system is still having trouble connecting to dispatch when needed, which puts these men and women right back out there in harms way with no way to call for help in certain areas of the county.
“I feel just as vulnerable as I did before,” said Gregory. “We’ve got people that are responding to fire runs that can’t even get out on their portables to inform dispatch they’re on route. It’s not a good thing. Someone is going to get hurt.”
Another push for the county to buy a new system stemmed from federal guidelines that required all analog systems, which the county had, to switch over to digital by a certain date.
The new system is considered a multi-site network, requiring towers on Reservoir Hill in Russellville, a tower in the north and south part of the county and one mid way if the system is to work correctly. The system installation has three phases, of which the county approved two, leaving out the additional towers other than on Reservoir Hill. This, said many fighters and police officers, is what is causing the problems.
“The county needs to go ahead and do all the phases so we have a system that works for us. We may have a disaster where people could die. The county has already put up $600,000, why not go ahead and finish the project,” said Gregory.
Gregory referred to an automobile accident which occurred Monday, Oct. 29 on Ky. 103 near Auburn. Gregory, who also serves an an EMT, said he was knelt down beside a critical patient and couldn’t get out to dispatch. He claimed that one of the Logan County Deputies who responded couldn’t get through either.
After the new system was installed and problems were still apparent, a Simplex system was installed in fire trucks to act as a booster for the hand held radios. The Simplex requires firefighters to flip a switch in their trucks before exiting. Gregory says there is a major problem with that because a lot of calls are first responder calls and the truck is not always taken to those. That leaves the first responders and their radios with no booster.
Lewisburg Firefighter Lonnie Epley says the Simplex really doesn’t help you when your not in sight of the truck. Gregory confirms Epley’s statement.
“We tested this Simplex system by going into the Lewisburg School. The minute we went into the school we lost signal,” said Epley, who also believes the only solution to the problem is to put up the towers that are in the project contract.
“It states in there that the radio system won’t work without all three phases,” said Epley.
Lewisburg Fire Chief Eddie Schweers and some of his firefighters attended a fiscal court meeting several weeks ago telling the magistrates of the problems with the new system. They were told everyone needed to document the areas the radios would not work. They have been doing so ever since and have complied quite a lot of data. At that meeting their word was questioned by sheriff Whittaker.
Whittaker is in charge of the installation of the new system. He says he is just as frustrated as the firefighters and police officers that are having trouble. “Some of my own deputies can’t get out either,” said Whittaker, who says he is trying to do everything he can to help fix the situation, but agrees the additional towers would help.
The Design, Furnish and Install Agreement between Kenwood USA Corporation and the county states:
“Kenwood understands that the county desires to proceed with Phase I (single site) and Phase III (Zetron console) at this time. Phase II (multi-site system expansion) will be addressed at a later date. The county acknowledges that coverage from the Phase I single site Reservoir Hill will not cover entire county.”
For many firefighters and police officers the “later date” is here and now.
Judge/Executive Logan Chick said there is no system around that gives a 100 percent coverage. “It’s my goal not to have to spend another half a million dollars, but would like to get as close as I can to as much coverage as may be possible,” Chick said. “But we are going to have to do what we have to do,” added the judge.
Chick said it was the courts hopes that the Simplex system would work and take care of it. He says he hasn’t really heard much from anyone since the Simplex was installed. “I think the cities’ agencies need to address the problems with the fiscal court and relay their detailed information,” said Chick.
Auburn Police Chief Ron Mills said he cannot get a signal anywhere inside a structure. He says he does more communication with dispatch (911) though his cell phone. Adairville Police Chief Steve Hadden said he does the same.
“This is not because of the radios we have or the channels, it’s because the project wasn’t completed with the the additional towers,” said Mills. “The system is not going to work as it is designed to do with out those.”
Both the cities of Auburn and Lewisburg have drafted letters to the county expressing their concern. Auburn’s mayor Dewey Roche writes:
“Since the implementation of the digital system the areas serviceable by portable radios are still few and far between; the only difference now is that when they do get service it is clearer. This puts our emergency personnel, including firemen and police officers, in situations that are either hazardous to themselves or the persons they are responding to.
“The new system has been tested in almost every business building in Auburn and in several homes. No service is received inside the structure at a large percentage of these locations. Emergency personnel should not have to go outdoors to hold a radio towards the sky for service like trying to get a clear picture with rabbit ears antennas on a 60’s model television set.
“It is our belief, wish, and plea that the three tower sites originally stated in the plan for the new system be implemented. Adequate radio service is detrimental to the well-being of all those involved in an emergency call. Logan County as a whole deserves better than what it is currently receiving.”
The city of Russellville, of course, is not experiencing any issues because of the tower that is located on Reservoir Hill. Russellville Fire Chief Bill Poole says they are having no problems. Adairville’s Fire Chief Jim Tremble said they haven’t really tested theirs very much. Olmstead Fire Chief Dan Kemp, who also serves as the firefighter’s representative on JECOB, said the Olmstead and Adairville area, due to the lay of the land, does not experience many of the problems the other parts of the county do. He did say, as a representative of JECOB, he will be addressing the issue and believes as well that the additional towers need to be in place. JECOB stands for Joint Emergency Communication Operations Board and they are an advisory board for the ECC.
“We (the county) bought 33 percent of the coverage and you can’t expect it to work,” said Kemp. The way it was designed your going to have to put the towers up. The county has a rainy day fund in case it rains, well if someone gets hurt it’s going to be pouring.”