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Emergency Radio System Needs Improvements

Emergency Radio System Needs Improvements

Spotty Coverage, Static Lead to Communication Break-Downs

Woodbridge residents will be asked to approve the purchase of a new radio system for emergency responders.  Given the $2.1 million price tag, the expenditure will be brought to residents for approval at a special town meeting.  The Boards of Finance and Selectmen were expected to meet in a joint meeting November 16 to formally recommend the project and set a date for the public vote.

This meeting is a follow-up to a similar joint meeting November 8, at which the chiefs of the police and fire departments jointly addressed town leaders laying out the need for a new radio communication system for the town.  They were accompanied by Paul Zito, a consultant with New England Radio Consultants.

The current simulcast radio system has reached the end of its useful life, said First Selectman Beth Heller when she welcomed the chiefs to the joint meeting.  To underscore the point that the old system can compromise the safety not only of the residents it serves but the first responders themselves, Fire Chief Sean Rowland played back recordings of real-life situations during which the communication between the dispatcher and the first responders broke down due to static.  From “Can you repeat,” to “I can barely hear you,” and “I can’t copy anything you said” and finally, “I am going to call you on your cell,” the recording clearly showed how difficult the communication can be.

Police Chief Frank Cappiello described a recent attempted burglary situation, where officers had to use their cell phones to get the target’s description.  “Officers could see each other, but not talk on the [hand-held] phone,” he said.  There are areas in town where communication is close to impossible, mainly along the Route 67 corridor, also near the intersection of Rimmon Road and Racebrook, and along the Merritt Parkway.

The new system will increase the communication reliability throughout the area, not only in dead spots, they said.  It would facilitate communication between all first responders and add the Public Works employees into the loop.  The Public Works system dates from the 1970s, Chief Rowland said.  Public Works employees don’t have hand-held radios, even when they are out plowing the roads in snowstorms.  The current police radios and those of the fire department are compatible with the new system and need not be replaced, he said.

The suggested package involves five transmission antennas, a new dispatch console with software, as well as hand-held radios for the Public Works employees.  The cost of about $2.1 million dollars also includes site work and needed equipment.  Time is of the essence, since the Motorola company is offering a $100,000-$150,000 discount if the system is ordered before mid-December.  Even if ordered soon, it could be a year before the new system is fully operational, they said.

Currently the radio communication relies on three towers that are placed at the police station on Center Road, at Bradley Road and near the Transfer Station.  This leaves large parts along the northern town line uncovered, as well as a wide swath along Peck Hill Road and an area west of Racebrook Road along the southern town line.  Another antenna at Oak Lane Country Club is a receiver only.

The town’s topography requires additional antennas.  The new system would abandon the transfer station site and instead hook onto a higher tower located in Seymour; it would add an antenna to a water company tank near the western town line; it would update the Oak Lane site to receive and transmit data; and it would hook onto the AT&T tower currently located off of Litchfield Turnpike in addition to the police department site and the existing antenna on Bradley Road.

Woodbridge Finance Director Anthony Genovese had a power point presentation for the selectmen and the finance board members, showing how the added debt would fit into the overall debt service obligations.  A graph shows existing debt, with $9 million of proposed projects added, namely the radio system; old fire house renovations ($500,000); police station renovation ($5 million) and Country Club remediation ($1.5 million).  It would keep overall debt level relatively flat until 2024, at which point it would start to decrease, he said.  Current debt service represents about 8.72% of the operating budget.

In addition to the initial investment, the system would require some ongoing maintenance costs ($25,000 or $45,000 annually, depending on what’s covered) and rental fees for the telephone lines as well as the Seymour tower.

By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent

Pictured: Fire Chief Sean Rowland, left, and Police Chief Frank Cappiello are making the case for a new radio system for emergency responders.

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