The Union Recorder

September 19, 2013

Local firefighters communicating OK

Kyle Collins
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Milledgeville Fire Department turned on a new 700-megahertz radio system Friday, Sept. 6. 

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

Concerns from public officials about fire ground response and safety across both the city and county fire departments led to subsequent meetings and a confusion-clearing local gathering at City Hall Wednesday.

Mayor Richard Bentley and Baldwin County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall, along with attorneys, managers and public safety leadership met for an hour and a half.

Bentley said there were misunderstandings about what the city was trying to achieve with a different radio. The meeting got both governments on the same page with fire response protocols and communications.

“I wanted to meet today to find out where the miscommunication was,” Bentley said Wednesday afternoon. “I think having everybody in the same room got all that out in the air and got the problem solved. It’s a public safety issue, and obviously that’s quite important to the city and the county.”

Certain county officials worried firefighters now needed to carry two radios into the fire ground thereby tangling up the response.

Hall said fire ground operations would maintain standard procedure with the Turbo radios for the immediate future. 

“We aren’t going to be in a situation where firefighters are going to carry two radios and have to figure out which ones to use,” Hall said.

The Automatic Aid Agreement between fire departments remains unchanged.

City and county leaders learned the two radio systems could “talk” to one another under certain mechanisms.

“If we knew that to start with, that probably would have solved our issues,” Hall said. “That’s not what we are doing, but it could be done.”

The mayor said the city wouldn’t stop using the 700 models.

“There are certain situations where we would use the Turbos. That’s why we kept both of them until everybody gets on (the 700 system),” Bentley said.

Hall was happy all the main players heard and understood the same information Wednesday.

“I think last week we were hearing things and some of those were not correct. It created a lot of confusion that frankly we shouldn’t have had. By doing this today, we cleared up all of the issues,” Hall said. 

The county fire department has some 700 models but needs additional portables to fully integrate the entire combination full-time and volunteer department.

Future plans are to switch over to the new system. Funding shortages placed the county behind the 700-radio supply train.

Hall said a grant request to cover the radios is pending with a backup plan if the request fails. 

“If not, the county will move to purchase, lease-purchase or by whatever means we have to get those radios,” the county chairman said Wednesday.

When asked by the Union-Recorder about an exact figure, Hall said a final price isn’t established but won’t be cheap.

City Manager Barry Jarrett said last week each radio costs $3,400, originally purchased through joint city and county Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds.

Anywhere from a $120,000 to $170,000 price tag for the additional radios depends on final assessment, according to County Manager Ralph McMullen’s previous statements. 

Both local governments are reviewing methods to merge the fire departments as a way to eliminate similar problems.

“It goes back to being more effective and efficient,” the mayor said.

Exploring that and a 911 Authority are part of ongoing discussions.

“These things can’t be accomplished in the short term. It takes organization and planning to get this done, and we are moving forward,” Hall said.

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