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New radio system called “vastly improved”

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Orleans County officials celebrated the completion of a new emergency communications system on Wednesday. Pictured from left includes Legislature Chairman David Callard, Legislator and Public Safety Chairwoman Lynne Johnson and Emergency Management Director Paul Wagner. Wednesday was also Wagner’s birthday.

ALBION – A project that was 10 years in the making was celebrated for a successful completion on Wednesday, with the finished product a much more reliable emergency communications system for firefighters, police officers and other first responders in Orleans County.

“We have a Cadillac here and we’ll have a Cadillac here for a lot of years to come,” Emergency Management Director Paul Wagner told county legislators.

The new digital Project 25 system replaces an analog system. Emergency responders often complained the old system had gaps in the county and didn’t work well with portable radios. Some firefighters were given portable radios over the weekend to test the coverage at edges of the county in western and eastern Orleans, which were prone to poor coverage.

“It worked beautifully,” David Knapp, a past Holley fire chief, told county officials about the new system.

He had a signal as far away as Mumford and Caledonia in Livingston County.

Mike Fuller, the East Shelby fire chief, said the old radios were notorious for dropping signals near the wildlife refuge. The new radios have strong signals throughout western Orleans.

“This will be a big improvement,” said Fuller, who is also the Town of Shelby highway superintendent. “This is state-of-art digital.”

David Knapp, a past Holley fire chief and current county fire investigator, said the new radio system has vastly improved coverage in the Holley area. He addressed Orleans County legislators during their meeting on Wednesday.

With the old system, when there was a signal the voices didn’t always come through clearly.

“Now there is a solid signal,” Fuller said. “You could talk to someone across the county and it’s just like you’re standing right next to them.”

The gaps in coverage worried first responders. Often the signal dropped when they went inside a house.

“It could be life-threatening if you don’t get a good signal,” Fuller said. “You need to be able to communicate.”

The new system includes three transmission towers, which is up from one with the old system. There are 1,100 portable radios and 550 that are mounted to vehicles. The dispatch center and backup dispatch received new consoles and other equipment. The total project was about $7.1 million with a state grant paying $2 million of the cost.

“It’s on and it works,” Wagner said. “In my opinion it is a superb system.”

Legislature Chairman David Callard said the system provides “vastly improved radio communications for all end-users in Orleans County,”making it safer for them to respond to emergency calls.

Legislator Lynne Johnson serves as chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee and pushed for the upgraded system. She praised Wagner and Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt for their efforts in seeing the project to completion.

“The county really bit the bullet with this one,” she said. “We decided if we were going to do it, we’d do it right.”