Quantcast

WCAX Investigates: Vt. first responders face radio problems - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

WCAX Investigates: Vt. first responders face radio problems

Posted: Updated:
GEORGIA, Vt. -

The smoke from a Georgia house fire in 2012 could be seen from miles away, and the fire department knew they needed help to battle the blaze.

"With attempts to call mutual aid, (dispatchers) were not able to hear us," Georgia Fire Chief Keith Baker said.

The problem was due to the recent Federal Communications Commission narrowband mandate.

"The plan is to squeeze more channels between the other channels in an effort to make more frequencies available," said Todd Goad of Burlington Communications. "As communities grow, the demand for channels for other departments and agencies increases."

But it has resulted in black holes in many communities. Because the frequencies are shorter, it makes it more difficult for radio waves to travel. First responders across Vermont are finding their emergency radios don't work in 10 percent-20 percent of their coverage area. For the Georgia Fire Department, that includes the center of town.

"We knew there would be things to work out, but we are having more problems than we expected," Baker said.

"In rural Vermont it is more noticeable because there is a limited number of transmitters," Goad said. "The hills, the terrain, it is much harder for radio waves to penetrate those nooks and crannies."

But narrowbanding has also impacted first responders in urban areas, like at the University of Vermont.

"Narrowbanding has shifted and created dead spots that we may not even know about," UVM Police Chief Lianne Tuomey said. "But we can't sort through in the middle of a crisis."

The University of Vermont Police Department must now do a survey of the 680-acre campus, identifying dead spots. It will likely take weeks.

"It's human resource intensive; you have to put a human being in there, in every space on this campus," Tuomey said. "It's an expediential undertaking and has to be done methodically."

The communication problems can be fixed, often with boosters and more modern equipment. But the conversion to narrowbanding has been costly for some departments. Some rural departments purchased dozens of new radios, ranging in price from $500 to $2,000 per radio.

"And that's the frustrating part," Goad said. "They had to purchase new equipment to go narrowband and the new equipment does not work any better than the old. And in a lot of cases, it works worse because of the coverage loss."

"To date, the Vermont Communications Board has distributed $9 million in funding to help first responding agencies," said Michael Manning of Vermont Emergency Management.

Communications experts say bringing everybody on board with narrowbanding statewide will likely take years and costs millions of dollars in equipment and infrastructure, including new transmission towers. While it may be slowing down responses now, in the end officials are confident it will improve safety.

"To allow agencies of different discipline and different geographical areas, both within the state of Vermont and around the region, to have the ability to communicate during major events and incidents," Manning said.

Back in Georgia, Chief Baker says even though getting more firefighters to the scene was a problem, it did not impact the final outcome of that 2012 blaze. But it did highlight for the first time the issues of narrowbanding for the department. What needs to be done and how much it will cost for Georgia is unknown, but it's a priority that could mean the difference between life and death.

"There may be no means to get extra help," Baker said.

While some problems have occurred due to narrowbanding, first responders say in the long run the conversion will be beneficial because grants have helped them pay for much-needed radio equipment upgrades.

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • Vt. police treat toddler's death as 'suspicious'

    Vt. police treat toddler's death as 'suspicious'

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 2:42 PM EDT2014-07-22 18:42:04 GMT
    A toddler died Tuesday morning under what police call suspicious circumstances.
    A toddler died Tuesday morning under what police call suspicious circumstances.
  • NH town hopes for answers after missing teen returns

    NH town hopes for answers after missing teen returns

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 1:19 PM EDT2014-07-22 17:19:49 GMT
    Residents of a New Hampshire town who searched, prayed and held vigils for a 15-year-old girl who disappeared while on her way home from school nine months ago are relieved she's returned, but they want to know...
    Residents of a New Hampshire town who searched, prayed and held vigils for a 15-year-old girl who disappeared while on her way home from school nine months ago are relieved she's returned, but they want to know what...
  • Cabot man turns self in in St. Johnsbury shooting

    Cabot man turns self in in St. Johnsbury shooting

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 11:42 AM EDT2014-07-22 15:42:13 GMT
    Police say a Cabot man wanted on a charge of attempted murder in a drive-by shooting in St. Johnsbury has turned himself in.
    Police say a Cabot man wanted on a charge of attempted murder in a drive-by shooting in St. Johnsbury has turned himself in.
  • Location set for Allen Prue trial

    Location set for Allen Prue trial

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 11:53 AM EDT2014-07-22 15:53:55 GMT
    A final location has been determined for the trial of Allen Prue.
    A final location has been determined for the trial of Allen Prue.
  • 3 arrested in burglary-shop-drug scheme

    3 arrested in burglary-shop-drug scheme

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 12:22 PM EDT2014-07-22 16:22:03 GMT
    Vermont State Police have arrested three people stemming from numerous burglaries from homes and selling them to a consignment shop in exchange for drugs.
    Vermont State Police have charged three people in connection with burglaries at several homes in which the stolen items were swapped for drugs at a consignment shop.
  • Fire destroys Alburgh home

    Fire destroys Alburgh home

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 2:22 PM EDT2014-07-22 18:22:25 GMT
    Fire tore through a home in Alburgh last night.Firefighters responded to a house fully engulfed in flames at 16 Wagner Point. 
    Fire tore through a home in Alburgh last night.Firefighters responded to a house fully engulfed in flames at 16 Wagner Point. 
  • Air defense drill for 4 Northeastern states

    Air defense drill for 4 Northeastern states

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 9:57 AM EDT2014-07-22 13:57:27 GMT
    The New York state Division of Military and Naval Affairs says a two fighter jets from a Massachusetts Air National Guard unit will be conducting an air defense exercise over parts of four Northeastern states.
    The New York state Division of Military and Naval Affairs says a two fighter jets from a Massachusetts Air National Guard unit will be conducting an air defense exercise over parts of four Northeastern states.
  • Vt. sues Dollar Tree over tainted jewelry

    Vt. sues Dollar Tree over tainted jewelry

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 12:23 PM EDT2014-07-22 16:23:02 GMT
    The state of Vermont wants Dollar Tree stores to stop selling jewelry tainted with toxics.
    The state of Vermont wants Dollar Tree stores to stop selling jewelry tainted with toxics.
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WCAX. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.