Dispatchers’ ‘dead zones’ addressed; variance approved for 2 radio towers
Lake County (Fla.) Fire Rescue and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office are one step closer to a compatible radio system for dispatch communications after the board of adjustment voted unanimously to grant a variance to build two communications towers.
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners’ board of adjustment met with fire and sheriff’s officials, and Motorola representatives and granted a variance for both telecommunications towers at locations in opposite ends of the county.
One tower will be erected in Astor to cover northern portions of the county where firefighters and deputies currently experience “dead zones” where they are unable to receive or transmit a radio signal.
Carol Morrison, communications supervisor for the sheriff’s office, said to the board, “The deputies go out on a call, they get 15 or so miles away from Tavares and they can’t get back in touch with the communications center.”
April Hoover, deputy chief with Lake County Fire Rescue, said her agency operates off two towers, and said fire trucks within do not even have the capabilities to communicate if they come from another area for aid.
“We do have several more dead spots than the Lake County Sheriff’s Office,” she said.
Sheriff’s Maj. Claude Gnann said to the board, “We need your help.”
He said on many calls a deputy will key the microphone on the radio and get dead air.
“We believe that is critical,” he said. “They key their mic and get silence. That’s very dangerous and we would like to change that as soon as possible.”
Although Lake-Sumter Emergency Medical Services operates on a different radio system that covers both Lake and Sumter counties, “Instead of building a $5 million radio system, EMS would only need to get a $1,500 or $2,000 Motorola radio, and use our system,” said Gnann.
“We certainly will allow them to be on our frequency,” he said.
Executive Director for EMS, Jim Judge said, “We certainly feel that they need to get their system up and running, we support that.”
However, he said there is more to total compatibility than just buying new radios.
As far as communications compatibility from a dispatch perspective, Judge said the cost quoted to him by Motorola would be upward of $1 million, and the state would require a significant upgrade of the current UHF system before it could go VHF. He also said there is currently no frequency channel available for them to secure a spot on the VHF system.
“There’s no channel for us to acquire to get on with VHF,” he said.
All trucks that respond on an advanced life support level are required by state to have UHF radios, Judge said, so fire will still have UHF capabilities. He said there is budgeted money that will be used to cover the expense of new radios VHF equipped that will allow ambulance units to communicate with fire and the sheriff’s deputies in the meanwhile.
Upgrades for their current UHF system are in the near future, according to Judge, and their new communications center will up and running before the end of the year.
“We’re working very hard on our radio communications, because of course they need to be upgraded,” he said.
Gnann said since deputies respond to all fires, he would like them to be able to communicate with the firefighters.
After better understanding the nature of the system, Vice Chairperson May Link Bennett said, “I really think we need to bring this to fruition and get it going here.”
“We had no prior knowledge except what we read, of the vastness and complexities involved,” said Bennett.
One tower will be located in Groveland on county owned property where the sheriff’s office has a warehouse of military surplus equipment, and the other will be in Astor. The third tower is in the hands of the Astatula City Commission to decide whether they will allow the construction and use of the third tower in the city.
(Copyright 2002, Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Fla. Republished with permission.)