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Alpacas flourishing in Montross

Alpacas flourishing in Montross

When Ken Chatham first talked with his wife, Gwynne, about his idea of raising alpacas, she was skep...

W&L’s forensics stars head to VHSL state competition

Four Washngton & Lee forensics team members are heading to the Virginia High School League’s Mar...

Artifacts find requires add-on the plan for James Monroe Birthplace

The Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors voted Monday night to add to the funding for the develo...

County school board to host hearing

Wants public input on its search for a new superintendent
The Westmoreland County School Board has re...

Happy Birthday to the Father of our Country

Happy Birthday to the Father of our Country

Costumed workers at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Westmoreland County, left,...

Westmoreland has share of prominent African-Americans

Westmoreland has share of prominent African-Americans

Every February, the nation celebrates Black History Month and takes the  time to recognize the contr...

 

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14-year-old equipment endangering lives

Oak Grove VFD Chief Mike Gutridge recently advised that he is very concerned about the decaying conditions of radio communications in Westmoreland County, “I’m concerned about the safety of firefighters, EMS, police and the community.”

Gutridge said that humidity plays a part in making communications harder to understand, but when transitions are blocked completely, that is system failure. “Communication is the link to safety in a working fire.”

Dispatchers in Westmoreland County transmit and receive communications through base radios; transmissions bounce off of towers/repeaters to send signals across the county.

One repeater is located in Oak Grove, another in Montross at the old courthouse (which was recently hit by lightning) and one at Griffiths Corner, which also failed recently, causing problems.

Aside from portable and mobile radios, each firefighter is equipped with two alarms to indicate when a firefighter is down or injured. If a firefighter is down or stops breathing, an audible alarm sounds and assists in locating a downed firefighter.

Additionally, each radio has a 45-second alarm that can be used as a mayday call. When a first responder is unable to speak, they can hit the mayday call button, and it will open channel one for 45 seconds, alerting dispatch that there is a problem. However, if the system is down due to a lightning strike or generator failure at the tower/repeater, these mayday call buttons could fail to work.

In the past, first responders have had to rely on cell phones for backup communications when the system was down. This is not advantageous when a first responder is in danger or injured. Another advantage to radio communications is that each radio, if properly identified, sends a unique identifier to dispatch, so if the radio is keyed but no one is able to speak, the dispatchers know who is calling.

Gutridge said that if this was a new problem, he would not be as concerned but he said the system has been having these issues since they first got the present equipment around the turn of the century.

“They keep fixing a broken system; you don’t know if it will last for a month or a week. You never know when you’re going to get your info across the radio,” Gutridge said, adding, “The system is back up again for the time being and working, but a storm can interrupt service.”

First responders have no way of knowing if the system is down during periods of no calls, so if they come across an emergency or dispatch sends out a page, it could be a long time before anyone knows the system is down. Gutridge said, “Delays from not receiving a page could cost lives; time is essential.”

Linda Farneth

 

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