Having reliable radios and communication equipment is vital for the city’s volunteer firefighters.
But when that equipment continually breaks down, it can potentially put firefighters in harms way.
That’s why the recently applied for a $1 million grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Program.
According to Tim Manion, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, the current radio system is “inoperable 50 percent of the time.” And that’s just not acceptable anymore, especially for the volunteers who put their lives on the line every time they respond to an emergency call.
“The equipment is breaking down every day,“ said volunteer firefighter Chris Jones, the Democratic mayoral candidate. “What‘s it going to take before something is done about it…a firefighter‘s injury or death?”
Jones said while Tower 7 was on its way to a call Wednesday to a Progress Avenue business, the radio system faltered once again. The call was only for an alarm this time, and not an actual fire, but Jones said there was no communication between the truck and dispatch.
“The communication to dispatch was unreadable,” Jones said.
Manion, in the grant application to FEMA, detailed various incidents that have occurred since late 2008, where the equipment has failed time and time again.
Some of those incidents cited in the grant include:
- Dec. 30, 2008, when the fire department responded to a three-alarm fire at . "During the fire, communications were so poor that units operating on the scene never heard urgent messages." While the fire caused $5 million in damages, fortunately there was no injuries of loss of life.
- Dec. 13, 2009, the fire department responded to a 50-car pile-up on Route 110, due to an unexpected ice storm. As the road was completely blocked to all traffic, it was crucial for firefighters to have communication. But because the area is a known “dead spot” in the city, vital radio transmissions between firefighters were not heard.
- June 24, 2010, the fire department assisted nearby Bridgeport in rescue efforts after that city was hit by a tornado. However, poor interoperability prevented Shelton’s firefighters to communicate with any mutual aide fire departments on the scene, as their radios were not compatible with any other systems.
- Aug. 28, 2011, when Tropical Storm Irene hit. Due to more than 200 storm-related calls for help, first responders had to relay information via their own cell phones because the radio system was unable to monitor the abundance of emergency calls.
Fire officials further stated in its application to FEMA that “Shelton has been in dire need of a reliable interoperable radio system for several years…our intention is to replace our current antiquated radio system with a good quality, reliable interoperable radio system that will provide us safety and service for a good many years.”
Replacing the antiquated equipment will enable the fire department “to improve firefighter safety and reduce the chance of possible loss of life and property,” officials said in the grant application.
An interoperable communications system will also enable fire officials to “to “effectively communicate with fellow firefighters, on scene and off, as well as the city’s police, EMS, OEM, departments, and mutual aide towns.”
Manion said the existing equipment has needed a dozen repairs within a three-week period, further stressing the need for a complete upgrade. A brand new system is expected to cost about $2.1 million. The city is slated to match costs with $1.1 million from its general fund and contingency accounts, while the FEMA grant, if approved, would cover the remaining costs.
Manion said some of the current equipment is upwards of 20 years old, and several components are so outdated that replacement parts are impossible to find. He also said repairs to the existing equipment averages about $70,000 a year.
If the FEMA grant comes through, it will allow the department to purchase 300 two-tone pagers, 100 standard portable radios, 60 one-piece mobile radios, two equipment towers, along with various transmitting equipment, control stations, antennae and hardware.
Fire officials said the new equipment they’d like to purchase is not extravagant, but rather necessary in the name of safety for the volunteers and citizens.
“We are not looking to buy a top of the line system with all the bells and whistles,” Manion said in the application. “Each firefighter deserves to be as safe as the citizens they strive to protect.”