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Emergency radio system not working properly
By Judy Toomey, Staff Writer August 28, 2001
CADILLAC -- Wexford County Commissioners are demanding answers why an emergency communications systems which has already cost a quarter million dollars apparently needs an additional $208,000 in improvements to meet the county’s needs.
“I’m not going to spend another dime on radios until I understand why ... we are now going to spend over $1 million on a radio system we’ve appropriated $750,000 for,” said Commissioner Chairman Darrell Kelley during a recent meeting of the board’s Finance and Appropriations Committee.
Currently, police, fire and ambulance radio communications in Wexford County are transmitted via two simulcast towers. One is at the county road commission garage; the second is near the intersection of M-55 and M-37.
According to Sheriff Gary Finstrom, the two towers provide adequate communication between central dispatch and emergency vehicles. Where the system falls short is in its ability to page volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service personnel. The signal strength isn’t strong enough to penetrate thick-walled buildings in the city of Cadillac.
“A lot of our guys work in the factories, and they’re not getting the pages. They’re not showing up for runs when they’re working,” said Mark Near, fire marshall for the city of Cadillac.
Near said the fire department’s portable radios sometimes don’t work effectively within the city complex.
“We’re having problems communicating with each other and that’s very dangerous,” Near said. He acknowledged the problem has not occurred at the scene of a fire.
An Aug. 21 memo to the county board’s Safety Committee from Undersheriff Fred A. Harris outlined the improvements needed to the radio system.
Harris proposed adding a third simulcast site at the Cadillac water tower at a cost of $198,200. A 50-foot addition to the tower would be required at an additional cost of $5,000.
Harris also proposed moving the northwest receiver site from the old Wexford Township Hall to a 100-foot tower atop the new hall, which will be constructed on the same site in October. That cost was estimated at $5,000.
Harris noted that Motorola’s original estimate for the work had been $217,300.
“We were able to negotiate a significant reduction by not using the Motorola corporate site/program manager; rather, we will work with Motorola, Tele-Rad and the sheriff department administration to bring this project to completion,” Harris stated.
However, some finance committee members still balked at the cost.
“I thought the system should work for the price we were quoted. For (over) $700,000, we should have a working system,” said Terry Harvey.
Commissioners demanded to see an explanation, along with copies of the original contract with Motorola, at the next finance committee meeting, which will take place Sept. 13.
Finstrom indicated the problem isn’t the result of mismanagement. “When the project was put together, it called for a third transmission site. In trying to keep the costs down, we went without that site, but we’re finding the paging is not at an acceptable level for fire and EMS,” he said.
Mark Near said he was unaware of any incidents in which an inadequate number of firefighters had responded to the scene of an emergency because of the problem.
“We haven’t had any problems at this point. We just want to make sure we don’t have any in the future,” said Safety Committee Chairwoman Fran Okoren.