In some areas of town, firefighters can’t always depend on being able to communicate on portable radios, according to fire administrators.
Antiquated equipment with a limited reach can sometimes make it difficult for fire crews to communicate, Derry Assistant Fire Chief Scott Jackson said during an April 18 budget meeting.
The department uses 100 watt mobile radios that have to reach back to the main transmit and receive site, Jackson said during the meeting. But the system is limited in reach and doesn’t always function properly, he said.
“Our guys get out of the vehicle on portables, you can’t hear them,” Jackson said.
To be able to communicate, firefighters have to use devices called repeaters through the vehicle or they have to return to the vehicle, he said
“That becomes very problematic when you have a fire in the Island Pond District at two in the morning and you are screaming for help and no one is hearing you; I’ve been there,” Jackson said.
Jackson added, “So my vision and thinking here is to make sure that never happens again. So that’s why we are trying to collaborate and get the same coverage and protect our employees.”
He appeared at the meeting with Derry police Capt. George Feole during a presentation on a proposed $1.6 million emergency communications system.
“Basically the police side of the project is to replace all of our aging infrastructure in the police department, Feole said.
That includes radio and transmitter sites, along with other communications equipment.
The police department uses a 5-watt “friendly system” that works with hand-held radios, he said.
Feole addressed the possibility of receiving state or federal grants to help with funding. Because of limitations in federal funding, he said it seems unlikely Derry will be able to receive a grant.
And as for possibly receiving a state grant, he said, “This system we are proposing is meant to upgrade Derry’s infrastructure; it’s not a regional project, so we are not going to score high in that regard. So the likelihood of us being successful with a state grant is not very good.”
The proposed system for police and fire has been added as a proposed budget item in the Capital Improvement Plan.
The item is being proposed to replace outdated transmission and radio equipment, Town Administrator David Caron said during a meeting earlier this year at the Planning Board.
“The reason we are doing this now is we’ve got very old equipment with our police and fire dispatch and both facilities are reaching their end of life,” Caron said. “We’ve been told by the manufacturer that it’s difficult to get parts and it appears that in another year or so the vendor will no longer support those two facilities.”
If approved by the Town Council, the proposed communications system would replace all of the transmitter and receiver sites in town, Caron said.
“It will deal with all of the equipment on both head ends,” Caron said. “It will continue interoperability with respect to communications between police and fire.”
Caron added, “We expect that if the project survives the budget process and is approved by the Town Council it will be developed beginning in the summer of 2018 and end in about a year.”