Volunteers ask for better radios

Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Mar 26, 2014 - 02:16 PM

Representatives of the Mathews Volunteer Rescue Squad and Mathews Volunteer Fire Department made a plea to supervisors Tuesday night for funding to upgrade the county’s emergency communications system.

MVRS president Rob Brown explained to the board that the county has three options for dealing with the radio problem: upgrade to a three-site analog system, which would cost $72,000; upgrade to a three-site digital system at a cost of $172,000; or do nothing.

Brown said the analog system would solve the communication problem momentarily, but with widespread migration to digital radios, the tower equipment, field mobiles, and portable radios will eventually have to be replaced anyway, and possibly at a much greater cost.

A digital system would not only solve the problem but would also provide “the best platform for the future,” Brown said. The system would be compatible with any future federal requirements for “narrow-banding,” which increases the number of channels available, and it would have the capacity to allow multiple channels to be used in emergency incidents. In addition, the radios would be fully compatible with the new system set to be installed for the sheriff’s office and would be interoperable with other counties, such as Gloucester.

Installing a digital system for fire and rescue while one is being installed for the sheriff’s office this spring and summer will result in cost savings of about $40,000, said Brown, because tower crews will already be working on the system. In addition, VHF frequencies are in great demand, and if the job is delayed, the frequencies needed may not be available in the future. This could result in having to change to a different band width, which would add yet further cost to the system.

Brown said other localities are paying multiple millions of dollars for radio systems, but because of Mathews County’s flat terrain and relatively small size, the cost is much lower. He recommended that the board approve a digital system for fire and rescue services and implement a 10-year life cycle replacement plan for radio equipment. He said the $172,000 cost can be paid for over five years with a lease/purchase option, at a yearly cost of $39,000.

The board took no action on the matter.