Stoughton fire chief: Radio failures could jeopardize lives

Stoughton fire chief: Radio failures could jeopardize lives

Stoughton’s fire chief said repeated radio failures are putting his 39 volunteer firefighters’ lives in danger.

“If we get paged to an incident we can’t communicate back and forth with the 911 Center, and at times we can’t communicate with each other,” Chief Martin Lamers said. “Because if our firefighters are entering a burning building, and they lose radio communication their lives are in jeopardy.”

Lamers said the Dane County 911 system worked for decades and was dependable until a few months ago when it stopped working.

“We don’t know why,” Lamers said. “Was it the turning on of the DaneCom system at that time? Or is it just the system’s age that’s making it the problem? But it’s coming to the point we don’t have communication. That’s a real problem for us in emergency service.”

Those concerns are similar to what Blue Mounds Police Chief Andy Rose has experienced. An incident report shows his radio failing in November while he held suspects at Taser point.

“There seems to have been recently, particularly on the west side of the county, more incidents than in the past,” said McFarland Police Chief Craig Sherven, who serves as the Dane County Police Chief Association president. “To call what’s been going on the west side of the county isolated is a little difficult for me to say that.”

Fire Chief Association President Randle Pickering said recently Stoughton, McFarland, the town of Madison and Middleton have all had fire and EMS radio and pager failures.

Dane County Executive Chief of Staff Josh Wescott said the Madison Radio Shop has not been able to prove a correlation between the Blue Mounds tower issue and the 911 center’s equipment. Instead, Wescott said the Mount Horeb Telephone Company found a signal problem on the Blue Mounds’ Park Brigham tower, which county officials said was fixed last Wednesday.

“You may recall earlier the county asked the state to turn off the Wiscom site in Blue Mounds because of potential interference issues. Upgrading that T-1 line is a similar step taken to rule out potential causes,” Wescott said in a statement. “The diagnostics of radio system engineering are quite complex – – process of elimination of potential sources, with the goal of improved outcomes. It’s my understanding there was some improvement noted after the State Wiscom site was turned off and engineers will monitor now with the T-1 fix for similar progress.”

“We haven’t noticed any significant improvement,” Lamers said. “Sometimes we might not see the system work at all. Then it will all of a sudden. We feel they’re doing something. But what that is, we don’t know. They’re not real good about sharing information with us.”

Many first responders disagree, saying many of their radio problems are related to the old, out-of-date system, known as the legacy system, having to remain online because DaneCom has been repeatedly delayed.

“The legacy system doesn’t have any consistency in when it works. When it doesn’t work it’s concerning for me because I’m depending on that radio system for my firefighters if they’re going to be going into a fire scene that they have communication with the outside. We’re not sure that’s the case,” Lamers said.

The radio failure question will likely be a topic taken up when first responders have their first advisory committee meeting Wednesday at 1 p.m.