The director of the Franklin County emergency dispatch center said Tuesday that there are potential short- and long-term solutions to the county’s chronic radio reception problems, but the remedies probably won’t be cheap.

County leaders have been trying to find ways to fix public safety reception problems that have left firefighters and police calling for help but not being able to reach anyone.

In a meeting Tuesday to update county commissioners on the communications problems, Stan Wheeler, director of the Franklin County Regional Communications Center, told the officials that a consultant hired to study the communications problems, Richard Davol, has identified some immediate answers, some of which could be carried out over the next one to five years, and some long-term fixes.

“We do not have a sturdy, stable backbone of a communications system, and that’s what we need to rectify,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he doesn’t have cost estimates for the different projects yet, but he said the infrastructure improvements probably will be expensive.

“I don’t have any specific numbers for all of this,” he said.

Franklin County commissioners and the county budget committee, which includes selectmen from towns in the county, have not started work on the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Wheeler said his highest priority among the recommended immediate fixes would be to help address radio problems in Wilton by improving the Jay radio tower. The recommendation calls for using the Internet to repeat radio calls.

Wheeler told the commissioners that the same type of system was set up in Jackman, improving communication from Somerset County dispatch.

In a cost estimate submitted to the commissioners, the hardware required for the upgrade would cost $55,427.

County Commissioner Clyde Barker told Wheeler not to be shy about requesting the money for the projects from the budget committee. He said the committee can whittle the communications budget down, but Wheeler shouldn’t pre-emptively avoid asking for items because of their cost.

“If we’re going to have a communication center, we need to have one that works,” Barker said.

In a report to the county commissioners, consultant Rick Davol reported ongoing communications problems that include repeated failure of the same equipment, inadequate portable radio coverage, and a system that makes “howling” noises because of oscillating signals, frequencies that bleed over into each other and block transmissions, a lack of spare radios, bad vehicle antennas, aged batteries for portable radios and more.

Davol reported that the poor coverage is the result of a range of problems, which include technical issues, such as a crowded radio spectrum, and sites not working at full capacity, as well as problems posed by the county’s mountainous terrain.

Wheeler and the commissioners also discussed a request from Livermore Falls to have its emergency dispatching services provided by Franklin County rather than Androscoggin County.

In a letter to the county commissioners, Livermore Falls Town Manager Kristal Flagg noted that the town’s ambulance services are provided by Farmington-based Northstar, which is dispatched from Franklin County. Wheeler said the dispatch center also handles calls from neighboring Jay, which is in Franklin County.

Wheeler and the commissioners agreed that the first priority is to improve Franklin County’s communications infrastructure before it takes on a new town, but the commissioners approved having Wheeler also research the feasibility of taking on the Androscoggin County town.

In 2013, Livermore Falls voters rejected by a six-vote margin a proposal that it become part of Franklin County. The town borders Franklin County.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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