When it was mentioned at the Aug. 14 Fiscal Court meeting that the county’s new digital radio system was experiencing some problems, magistrates asked all emergency service agencies that used the radios to document where and when the problems occur.
Members of the Lewisburg Fire Department attended Tuesday’s court meeting with such a list showing where they had documented all the problem areas in north Logan, which their members had experienced before and after a few changes were made to better the new system.
The county purchased the new $600,000 plus digital radio system almost three years ago at the beseeching of emergency service workers who were fearful for their lives and others due to the old system’s reluctance to connect to dispatch. An Auburn firefighter in particular came to fiscal court telling them he could not get through to dispatch (911) after an arsonist pointed a gun in his face that luckily misfired.
Another reason the county purchased the system was due to a federal law that requires all analog systems, which is what the county had, to be switched over to digital.
The system went live about a month ago, however, according to sheriff Wallace Whittaker, there are a few glitches to work out. Whittaker, who has been overseeing the installation, says the biggest problem is with the handheld radios. There are still areas in the county where they will not get reception, which was one of the main reasons the system was purchased in the first place. Whittaker said the radios didn’t seem to work in concrete or brick structures either.
According to the sheriff. Kenwood representatives, the company who sold the radio system to the county, have been working to elevate the issues.
Lewisburg firefighters Sam Romines, Lonnie Epley and Jonathan Epley were at Tuesday’s court meeting. Epley gave each magistrate and the judge executive a four-page handout that showed when and where the radios would not work. The areas they chose to test were areas where the fire department had been called out to fires, accidents or first responder runs in the past.
Out of 28 test sites for mobile radios (in vehicle) conducted by the Lewisburg Fire Department- 18 were okay, one was not clear, six were out of range and three had bad reception. Out of 28 test sites for handheld radios- seven were okay, two would not work in a structure, 17 were out of range and one was bad reception and one was not clear.
Some of the issues Whittaker said involved low wattage radios. He said the radios should be at least 45 watt, whereas some of the radios out there are 25-35 watt.
Whittaker reminded the court that the radio system was a four phase project. It was discussed in the beginning that there would be better reception by placing towers in the Lewisburg and Auburn areas. Right now there is just one tower site on the top of Reservoir Hill in Russellville. According to the sheriff each additional tower could cost $255,000. This is a lot considering the county just shelled out over $600,000 for the new system already.
“Is there any kind of radio system out there that will reach everywhere in Logan County?” asked Magistrate Russell Poore.
Whittaker replied, “no.”
Poore went on to say, “Nothing is perfect and we don’t need to try and make it perfect.”
Whittaker said the new system is much better than the old one. “It is much clearer,” said Whittaker.
Jonathan Epley, a fire fighter agreed with Whittaker saying the radios were very clear when they worked.
One of the solutions Whittaker said could help is being looked at by Kenwood. It is called the Simplex system, which acts as a wattage booster. The sheriff said if this works, then the towers can be out off. If not, the county will need to find funding to purchase the two towers that will most likely go on top of the water tower in Lewisburg and on the existing Logan Telephone Coop tower.
The Simplex system will cost, but it is not know yet how much.
“Who is going to have to absorb the cost of this? Is it the county or the fire departments,” asked Lonnie Epley.
Whittaker told the court they were waiting on some technology to come in from China to see if the Simplex system will work.
Judge Executive Logan Chick told the magistrates that Logan County was not the only one suffering from this problem.
“This is happening all over the state,” said Chick mentioning Butler County and its recent application trying to obtain $500,000 in grant money to purchase a tower and system.
“They (Butler County) don’t even have coverage in the north corner of the county. So it’s not just us,” added Chick.