The Union Recorder

November 22, 2013

Firefighter radio switch almost complete

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — Uniform operation on the 700-megahertz public safety radio system nears for both Baldwin County Fire Rescue (BCFR) and the Milledgeville Fire Department (MFD).

Currently, BCFR doesn’t work under that system. The county fire department still operates “Turbo” Digital VHF radios.

Funding shortages placed the county behind the 700-radio supply train.

The county fire department had 38 of the 700 models but needed additional portables to fully integrate the entire combination full-time and volunteer department. 

Through joint city and county discussions, both sides agreed that the county wouldn’t order the remaining radios pending a Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) grant request.

“We told the city we were not going to jeopardize those grant funds by purchasing radios too early,” County Manager Ralph McMullen said. “We wanted to wait until we got the denial from the grant, which we did.”

McMullen said the county ordered 32 new Motorola 700-megahertz units, and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s department transferred 10 additional radios to the fire department.

Currently, all 80 radios are at Macon Communications finishing final programming for fire department application.

BCFR Chief Troy Reynolds said they hoped to have them by today.

“It’s hard to get a date set because we don’t have them in our hands yet,” Reynolds said. “Because the city and county jurisdictions are so cut up, it’s important for us to be able to hear and communicate with each other to have the most effective service. We are in a holding pattern until we can get them all programmed.”

Since early September, the City of Milledgeville postponed its full radio change to wait for the county in the best interest of fire scene communications. City firefighters have kept both the 700 and Turbo radios the last two months.

City Manager Barry Jarrett said the Turbo radios are still “used as needed.”

All key city fire staff carries two radios, MFD Chief Tom Dietrich said.

“Everybody in the department went back and starting using the Turbo radio 24/7, but battalion chiefs and staff personnel have had two radios working since we turned (the 700 radios) on,” Dietrich said. “That’s if it was necessary for us to communicate with the Milledgeville Police Department or other agencies using the new radio. Everybody did not keep them live. Just a few did on a daily basis.”

Dietrich said city fire rescue monitors the Turbo channels and assists the county immediately with “no lag in time.” 

“That whole situation is about to come to an end,” the MFD chief said.

Plans established a switch over to the new 700 system by Nov. 15.

“We did what we promised. Not only that, the radios came in by Nov. 15,” the county manager said. “There is nothing we can do but live with that agreement of how the fire departments will work together until they get on the same frequency. Right now, we are just waiting until the reprogramming is done.”

The final county price for the radios costing $2,778 apiece is just under $90,000.

McMullen said Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds would cover the purchase price.

“Motorola gave us a tremendous discount. We want to put our firefighters with the best in hand,” the county manager said.

Dietrich said the Turbo units will be backup radios in case of a bad storm. Both the city and county are holding on to them. 

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