FOR something that’s more than a decade in the making, the planned replacement of outdated two-way radios for Columbus firefighters is much more than long-awaited and welcome news.
A pledge by Mayor Kristen Brown’s administration to allocate more than $250,000 to the Columbus Fire Department will pave the way for the purchase of 60 new digital radios, which will enable firefighters to communicate, not only among themselves, but directly with other emergency responders without having to go through intermediaries or cope with garbled traffic.
It can resolve a situation that should have been addressed much earlier.
The problems of incompatible communications between, and sometimes within, responding agencies was raised as far back as 1996 when Bartholomew County deputies and Indiana state troopers complained they would be unable to monitor Columbus police transmissions if that department went ahead with plans to purchase new megahertz radios.
The differing methods of communication posed a number of problems for the individual agencies with equipment that allowed their officers to communicate among themselves but had to use dispatchers to pass along information to other agencies that might be called to the same incident.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States focused attention on the problem and ironically paved the way for local governments to get help from the federal government in bringing all agencies onto the same wavelengths, so to speak.
Local responders were able to tap into Homeland Security funds for a number of protective steps, one of the most important being the transfer from analog radios to digital systems, which had wider capabilities and provided clearer transmissions.
Even the county’s volunteer fire departments were able to get grants totaling $885,556 for the purchase of 800-megahertz digital radio systems in 2006.
The Columbus Fire Department has had a digital system in place for several years now, but the two-way radios used by firefighters operate on the analog system.
Newly appointed Fire Chief Fred Allmon noted that some of the equipment used by the department today is inoperable in some buildings with metal walls that act as a reception shield. Firefighters standing within a few feet of each other but separated by those walls can’t talk to each other.
The acquisition of the new equipment is intended to remove those communications barriers and enable all of the county’s responders to have clear and direct communications with each other.
It’s about time, especially in emergency situations when faulty reception or the need to go through third parties to relay messages can be costly, not only in time, but in the ability to save lives.