County breaks ground on new emergency radio system

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County officials were joined by State Sen. George Maziarz in turning a ceremonial shovel of dirt this afternoon during a ground-breaking for a new $7.1 million emergency communications system. Pictured outside the Emergency Management Office include, from left: County legislators John DeFilipps, Ken DeRoller, Lynne Johnson, Bill Eick, Eileen Banker (chief of staff for Assemblyman Steve Hawley), Maziarz, County Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt, Legislature Chairman David Callard, and Paul Wagner, EMO director.

ALBION In a just few months Orleans County first responders will have new radios, new transmission towers to send signals, and new emergency communications equipment at the dispatch center and a backup location.

County officials today joined with firefighters, police officers, highway superintendents and other emergency services personnel to celebrate a ground breaking for the project that has been years in the making.

“It’s been a long hard battle,” said Paul Wagner, the county’s emergency services director. “This brings us into the 21st Century.”

The new system will cost $7.1 million. A state grant will pay $2 million of the cost.

“These things are important but they’re also very expensive,” said State Sen. George Maziarz, who noted state funding is helping with the upgrade.

Firefighters have pressed the county for years to upgrade the system. The radios often have been unreliable, especially on the east and west ends of the county – about 10 miles away from the main transmission tower on County House Road in Albion.

“It’s been a problem for a long time,” said Fran Gaylord, a former Holley fire chief who is now a deputy emergency management coordinator for the county.

Orleans County Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Wagner, right, addresses a crowd during a ground-breaking celebration for the new communications system. Legislature Chairman David Callard, center, and Legislator Lynne Johnson, left, also spoke during the ground-breaking.

When their radios lose a signal, firefighters will often take a few steps to try to pick up service. In dispatch, emergency responders and dispatchers often have to repeat themselves because the signals fade in and out, said Allen Turner, the communications coordinator.

“Sometimes we don’t hear each other,” he said. “This will bring us up-to-date technology.”

The upgraded system has a new tower at Countyhouse Road, one by the Medina water tank on Route 31A and one by the Clarendon Highway Garage just off Route 31A. Medina and Clarendon both let the towers be built on their land without charging the county. County Legislature Chairman David Callard praised them for their intermunicipal cooperation.

The foundation was poured for the Medina site on Tuesday. Next week crews will work on the Clarendon site. The tower is already under construction in Albion.

The new system should be operational in April or May. Wagner credited the county officials for working through a myriad of issues, including negotiations with the Federal Communications Commission and its counterpart in Canada.

Legislator Lynne Johnson was the “bull dog” for the county, helping to push the project forward, Callard said. Johnson, as chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said fire chiefs often told her the old radio system posed safety risks for the personnel. Johnson was often on the phone with Callard, relaying concerns shared at fire advisory meetings.

The system includes 1,100 new radios. Ten of those will go to probation officers.

Luci Welch, Probation director, said there are many spots in the county along the lake and in remote areas where the current radios don’t work.

“These new radios will help keep us safe,” she said. “Safety is of paramount concern. For us, we never know what we’re going to walk into.”