EMS hopeful for new communication system

Published 12:58 pm Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Walt Bailey

The Charlotte County Board of Supervisors voted to spend $2.8 million for a new communication system that will help emergency personnel see a solution to a problem that has been ongoing for years.

“We’ve been in a bind for some time now,” said Walt Bailey president of the Charlotte County Fire & Rescue Association. “We’ve been working on getting a new system for the past six or seven years now, and we’re finally getting somewhere.”

Bailey went on to say that it is not only the poor service departments are getting when receiving calls, but also the bad communication between each other during an actual emergency.

“I currently have three pagers at my house set up hoping that one of them will pick up if we get a call and I live within sight of the tower,” added Bailey.

Bailey also told of how several members of the Phenix Fire Department were sitting in sight of the firehouse several years ago when a call came through, and no one’s  pagers alerted.

“Right now, we are just getting through it the best way we can, and we’re thankful to the Board of Supervisors for doing something about it now.”

According to Bailey, one issue that has hindered the lack of communication was when the FCC ordered narrow banded be used.

“When we had to do that we started having significant issues and its declined ever since, but I would say that the last year or year and a half it has gotten worse.”

Larry Newcomb, an administrative officer for Charlotte County Rescue Squad, said that communication varies throughout the county. “Most times you can’t hear any transmission and have to call by phone or rely on someone at the station to call if we are on the road,” he said. “The worse areas, in my opinion, are in the lower end of the county, upper end, and the Drakes Branch area and once you leave the county going towards Halifax or Farmville, you can forget it.”

Newcomb went on to say that when they are working a call in Phenix many times they can’t even hear the radio and must wait until crews get several miles out before dispatch can hear them.

Just as Bailey, Newcomb too has issues hearing calls from his home. “At my house, I have to leave the radio in the window to be able to hear calls,” Newcomb explained. “The county has needed better communications for a long time. Luckily we aren’t missing any calls thanks to everyone working together to help with communicating the calls back and forth.”

When it comes to emergency calls, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department operates the entire 911 system at no cost to the county according to Sheriff Thomas Jones.

On Monday, Sherriff Jones noted that his department had not been told what exact type of system the county plans to move to but did understand that the original plan that called for special encryption and radios for State Troopers working scenes in Charlotte County had been eliminated from the newly awarded contract.

Radio Communication of Virginia (RCV) will provide the new system.

In the Sept. 4 edition of The Charlotte Gazette Wylliesburg/Red Oak Board of Supervisor representative, Kay Pierantoni said engineers suggested to county officials that they should move to an Analog UHF signal. “To try to use the present system (VHS) and add more repeaters would have been a temporary fix but signals then get so “thinned out” communication would have been poor at best,” explained Pierantoni.

The new communication system will also aid Charlotte County Public Schools (CCPS).

According to Brette Arbogast, Executive Director of Operations with CCPS the schools use a radio system within their buildings and on the buses transporting students to and from school. “In the schools, it’s somewhat clear, but there are dead spots in the county that hurt us as far as transportation issues with the buses.,” said Arbogast.

“From what we are told, things should be much clearer. The clarity in communication is key, especially for safety reasons.”