Hesitation, anticipation surround county emergency radio signal fix

Hesitation, anticipation surround county emergency radio signal fix

While Dane County police and fire leaders are cautiously optimistic about county leaders’ plans to enhance their new emergency communication radio system, known as DaneCom, the police chief association president says there is also hesitation.

“We’re hoping, but it’s like a lot of things. Until the switch gets thrown … we won’t know,” Brooklyn Police Chief Harry Barger said.

Until the DaneCom system is brought online, which county officials now estimate will happen next summer, parts have remained offline since December.

At the time, the county executive’s office had hoped that would stop radio and pager failures that are plaguing some county first responders. However, Barger said they continue in his department.

“My ability to get out without my portable is almost nonexistent,” Bager said.

As a ‘Band-Aid’ fix, Barger is considering using $1,200 from his budget to purchase a portable signal.

“The officer carries a small device on their person, and once that’s flipped on, that activates the system,” Barger said. “So now we can get to the car and get to dispatch.”

The county also confirmed that June technical issues caused Cross Plains police radios to fail.

“People’s lives only hang in the balance here. At any given moment, whether it’s an ambulance call, a fire call, a police call, someone’s life hangs in the balance here,” Barger said.

The Dane County Fire Chiefs Association president, Middleton Fire Chief Aaron Harris, said that while some of his members’ frustration comes from human error, other failures also continue.

“(I) wish that wasn’t the case. I wish there was a system in place that you could talk and know you’re going to get someone on the other end. But as it stands, that’s not the case in Dane County,” Harris said.

For example, Stoughton’s new fire chief Scott Wegner, said paging volunteers in emergencies is still a problem. According to Wegner his Band-Aid fix remains a cellphone app.

“Any time you can’t communicate with somebody, frustration sets in,” Harris said.

County Executive Chief of Staff Josh Wescott said leaders have heard first responders “loud and clear.” Instead of turning on what could be an inadequate DaneCom system, Wescott said they still plan to spend nearly $7 million that the county board allocated for the project earlier this year.

“There’s eight towers up. There’s eight towers with equipment on them. We’re now going to put equipment on five more towers,” Wescott said.

But Wescott said those “new” towers will be equipment placed on five existing sites at the DeForest State Patrol, WJJO-Radio in Deerfield, outside Rockdale in CamRock Park, Stoughton’s water tower and Brigham County Park.

Wescott said adding radio equipment to existing towers will more quickly bring DaneCom online and help solve ongoing radio problems.

“The equipment is what makes the system work. And where you locate the equipment and how much you have determines the success of the system, not whether the equipment is located on an existing tower site or a new tower site,” Wescott said.

The county’s hope is that installing the equipment on existing sites to will have the system up and running by next summer, instead of 2017, as previously thought. Wescott said any money not spent on tower equipment will be spent on increasing critical-incident radio channels.