CARSON CITY — For nearly a decade, the Carson City Fire Department has had issues with hearing fire calls from Montcalm County Central Dispatch.
Now, with federally mandated narrow banding, it has only made the situation worse, according to Fire Chief Dan Kipp.
“We have been asking to put a repeater up for close to 10 years now,” Kipp said.
A repeater is an electronic device that receives a signal and retransmits it at a higher level or higher power, or onto the other side of an obstruction, so the signal can cover longer distances. However, Kipp’s request has not been granted. Firefighters from the Carson City and the Crystal Township fire departments basically maneuver around until they can get a clear signal.
“Trying to get our radio frequency to be clear is sort of like moving your cell phone around until you find a good spot to communicate,” Kipp said. “It is kind of like night and day. Some days they can’t hear us and there are days we can’t hear them and it is a serious safety issue.”
During the Montcalm County Fire Chiefs Association meeting in June, it was noted in the minutes that those not on the system yet were urged to implement the pager tone system. Failing to have the tone installed on the pagers could cause fire departments not to receive important information, both “emergent and non-emergent.”
“The other fire chiefs in the county have requested this All Call system,” said Central Dispatch Director Tim Scott. “The All Call replaces the pager test that used to alert all 14 fire departments in the county, which was about a five-minute process. This single pager system is more efficient.”
The Amble and Carson City fire departments are the only two departments that have yet to complete All Call installation.
“We already don’t get the information,” Kipp said. “I am not against the All Call. I am just trying to get across to Central Dispatch that we need to fix the old problem first.”
Scott is pursuing options to address the communication problems on the east side of Montcalm County.
“We are aware of the communication issues in Carson City and Crystal,” Scott said. “We are presently working on putting two transmitters on the tower on Blackmer Road.”
But the process doesn’t happen overnight. Scott has been working on the issues for several months and is awaiting approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the Blackmer Road tower.
“We are trying to kill as many birds as we can with our one stone,” Scott said. “This takes time. It can take two and three months before we can get the approval.”
According to the June minutes of the Montcalm County Fire Chiefs Association’s meeting, the poor communication has been an issue for 10 years and Scott believed it would still be another four or five months to help clear up communication problems on the east side of Montcalm County.
“I am sure Chief Kipp is probably frustrated with all of our delays,” Scott said. “All he knows is he couldn’t hear us a few years ago and he still can’t hear us.”
Kipp said he just wants to be able to respond in a timely manner and protect the community he serves.
“It is my job and the police chief’s job to protect the safety of our community and if we don’t hear the call and get the response time it becomes a major safety issue,” Kipp said.
Carson City Administrator Mark Borden confirmed the city has been working with Scott on this issue of communications.
“I know he (Scott) is working on it,” Borden said. “It is a slow process.”
Borden understands the concerns because of lack of communication between the county and the fire department.
“We don’t always hear the pages, tone outs, whatever they want to call it,” Borden said. “We tend to a situation where there is a fire and our guys don’t get the page and they are not there to fight the fire.”
According to Scott, it will cost around $30,000 each for the antennas.
“It isn’t something we can’t afford to do,” Scott said. “We’ve got the money. We need the permission from the FCC and do lots of different things that just take time.”
The paperwork has been submitted to the FCC and the next steps involve construction.
“We need to pour a cement pad next to the tower and install the equipment on the tower,” Scott said. “That is several months still worth of work.”
Kipp doesn’t blame Scott for the communication problems. He just wants the problems to be corrected before he is forced to implement another system.
“We have had this problem for some time now,” Kipp said. “Fix the current problem first so we can hear on the new call system.”