BATH | Efforts to upgrade radio communications for fire services in Steuben County are moving forward, with the approval of a $1.22 million contract with Motorola to upgrade equipment at the county’s existing transmitter sites and also add new sites.
Tim Marshall, head of the county’s Emergency Services department, said one of the main goals is to get fire departments off a system that’s been in place since the 1950s and on the new, higher-frequency system already used by law enforcement and ambulance services.
“They’re on two separate radio bands, so they have to have two separate radios to communicate with each other,” Marshall told The Leader. “Everything since 9/11 has been about ‘interoperable communications,’ where agencies can communicate with each other without having to use multiple devices. And that’s what this project is doing -- bringing them all to the same platform.”
The contract with Motorola, which was recently approved by the Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee, covers a total of 11 sites.
“It’s a distribution for the county to try to cover areas that are existing or will fill ‘holes’ where we want to add coverage,” Marshall said.
The money for the project is coming from state grants, which are funded largely through a surcharge on cell phone bills.
The county has roughly $3 million from those grants over the last several years.
“There’s funding for the fire departments to transition over to this new technology -- so there’s more than $1 million for the purchase of radios in trucks and portable radios,” Marshall said.
Allowing for the possibility of delays, he said he expects the new system to be fully in place about a year from now.
There is some question about what the maintenance costs for the new system will be on an annual basis, but County Manager Jack Wheeler told committee members he believes those costs can also be covered through state grant funding.
Wheeler and Marshall both said while the new system will still have some small areas with coverage gaps, the coverage will be much superior to the existing system.
One other key element of the new system is that it uses ‘simulcast,’ which means every radio in the county should receive transmissions at the same time. Marshall said right now, transmissions are on a 30-second delay.
The committee also discussed a plan for a small substation transmitter in Cohocton to cover that area, which has been traditionally difficult because of where the village is positioned among a group of hills.
Wheeler said the cost of that project would be minimal.