Chronic two-way radio reception problems among emergency service workers have prompted Franklin County officials to seek a grant for a comprehensive study of the county’s emergency dispatching services in the hope that it will lead to improvements in the radio system.

Stan Wheeler, director of the Franklin County Regional Communications Center, said the county’s hills and mountains are suspected as the cause of reception problems when emergency responders try to communicate by radio from certain places.

“In a word, the big problem is terrain. There are just too many hills in Franklin County,” Wheeler said. “There are times when Phillips Fire (Department) can’t hear us. Strong Fire (Department) says they have trouble hearing us. Different police agencies have issues.”

The county commissioners unanimously approved a $5,000 county tax increment financing grant Tuesday and are seeking a federal match to hire a consultant to study the radio communications between first responders and the dispatchers.

Wheeler, who was appointed as the county’s first communications director last year, said while there have been smaller, isolated attempts to address the problems, there has never been a comprehensive approach like the proposed study.

“The Band-Aid approach is what has historically been done,” he said. “We’re trying to develop something comprehensive.”

He said if all the emergency response agencies look for cooperative ways to help each other, they may be able to come up with a solution. For example, he said, a town might have a municipal tower that could be used to expand county radio communications.

The county officials are waiting to hear whether they get a $5,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant to match the $5,000 that would come from a county tax-increment financing district on the Kibby Mountain wind turbine project. Wheeler said he hopes to hear this week about the funding, but is not sure when the county will receive a definitive answer.

Chairman Fred Hardy said since he became a commissioner more than 20 years ago, the communications center has had problems with reception. He said the comprehensive study is intended to find a solution to the problem.

“We’ve suffered for years from a lack of radio communications. It’s never been any better, and it just doesn’t get any better,” he said. “It’s terribly bad. There’s no question.”

He said cellphones sometimes can serve as an emergency alternative, but those don’t always get reception either.

Commissioner Clyde Barker said the county has towers at Sugarloaf Mountain and Mosher Hill, and he thinks the consultants will advise the county to have more radio towers.

“I think they’ll find they need more antennas,” Barker said.

At meetings where commissioners studied communications, he said, he learned that the Strong, Rangeley and Phillips fire departments have said they get poor reception and deputies have said they have trouble with their radios in Weld.

“Sometimes the tones will go off, but they can’t hear them say anything about where the fire is at,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

 

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