Fire official: Radio problems 'life-threatening'While technological advances abound, Dickinson’s city and rural fire departments are experiencing severe radio interference, to the point one fire official deems it life-threatening.
While technological advances abound, Dickinson’s city and rural fire departments are experiencing severe radio interference, to the point one fire official deems it life-threatening.
A request for proposals will be discussed at a City Commission meeting at City Hall, Monday evening.
The fire departments presently operate on the same ultra high frequency bandwidth, or UHF, and interference is showing its face for short periods of time or running for a minute, then continuously thereafter.
“And unfortunately we found out that during those periods of static, we lose our ability to transmit to each other,” Dickinson Fire Department Chief Bob Sivak said.
If firefighters or an entry team were operating inside a structure during a period of static, individuals outside and inside the structure would not be able to communicate with one another, Sivak said.
“That’s what’s driving the statement, that we have to view this as a potential life-threatening situation,” Sivak said.
While dispatch at the Law Enforcement Center has radio equipment powerful enough to break through during times of interference, the fire department cannot answer their handheld radios nor communicate.
Dickinson Police Department made the transition a few years ago, moving from a system similar to the fire department’s to a very high frequency, or VHF bandwidth.
“We’re trying to move to VHF because the VHF bandwidth seems to be what all public safety agencies are migrating to,” Sivak said.
Sivak said while agencies make the transition to VHF, gaps in communication can occur, communication with other agencies such as the DPD is virtually impossible.
“Right now we’re not able to, that’s another reason that we really need to get going on making the transition,” Sivak said. “It’s going to be easier for us to meet those obligations if we’re in the VHF frequency than if we’re in the UHF.”
Several other area agencies are operating on a VHF bandwidth, including the Stark County Sheriff’s Department, Sivak said.
“If we need to talk to a patrol officer, we have to send the message to dispatch, they’ll get a hold of him and then they’ll relay the message back,” Sivak said. “We can’t talk directly back and forth.”
Sivak said while periods of total inability to communicate due to interference has been minimal, the last occurrence, during Memorial Day weekend, was by far the worst.
“It was the one where we became acutely aware of the fact that it took us off the air completely,” Sivak said.
The fire department planned on using 2011 to pursue additional grant money and gradually make the transition.
“We knew that the situation would progressively get worse and we’d have to make this transition, what we didn’t realize is that all of a sudden one day we’d be overpowered,” Sivak said.
Sivak said while pinpointing where the interference stems from is similar to “finding a needle in a haystack,” communications experts have said it is more than likely from data transmission.
An example of such interference could be surveying equipment that is sending data on a UHF bandwidth operating at a higher wattage than perhaps it should be, Sivak said.
“It could be, just as an example because there’s no way to prove this ... it could be a well site being staked in Dunn County,” Sivak said. “It’s an example again of how overcrowded the radio waves are becoming.”
The Federal Communications Commission is requiring narrow-banding by Jan. 1, 2013.
“And narrow-banding is not an option, it is a have-to,” Sivak said.
While an exact cost will not be known until bids are completed, Sivak roughly estimates the project’s price tag at about $125,000.
The fire department has about $45,000 so far for a new system.
Some surrounding counties have already made the transition to a VHF bandwidth.
Bowman County Emergency Manager Dean Pearson said Bowman County uses VHF frequencies and has been doing so since he started with the county in 1983.
Pearson said Bowman County has not experienced radio interference.
Brent Pringle, Stark County emergency manager, said the department is working to switch the fire departments to VHF to try and address the issue.
“It’s definitely there. I mean, we’ve heard it,” Pringle said.