FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Outdated paging equipment is worrying county fire chiefs who’ve asked the Allen County Commissioners for $1.68 million to update the crucial equipment.
With the county accessing about $74 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, Robert Boren, president of the Allen County Fire Chiefs Association, said he and other fire chiefs believe the money would be well spent improving communications, particularly because the Federal Communications Commission seems to be pushing for departments to get rid of VHF.
Boren, Huntertown Fire Chief, appeared in front of the commissioners last week and asked for help to purchase 800 megahertz paging and alerting systems which would also require mobile data terminals and computers in front line rigs, trucks and other apparatus.
The equipment the 11 fire departments is using is a 20-year-old VHF system built by Motorola that Motorola no longer technically supports, Boren said.
“Parts are no longer available,” he explained.
“Currently we have pagers, but unfortunately we are going to get to a point where it will be harder to rely on our system. One lightning strike would take out a tower and we would not be able to run that system anymore and we would be in a world of hurt,” Boren said.
Allen County has 11 fire departments outside the city of Fort Wayne, 23 fire stations and about 550 firefighters and medics. The city already has a pager system and Boren believes with new pagers, the county department could access help from the city’s radio shop.
Mike Reichert, technician overseeing the radio shop, spoke on behalf of the fire departments at the commissioners’ meeting. In answer to a commissioner’s question, Reichert said relying on cell phones isn’t practical because there are delays within that system.
Another problem with relying on cell phone technology is that “it’s a system we don’t maintain ourselves,” Boren said Monday.
Twenty years makes a big difference in the county. The number of runs each department – big or small – has shot up. In Boren’s department which covers two counties and about 70 square miles, runs were around 500 16 years ago when he joined the department. Now, the number of runs is about 3,000.
Fire Chief Don Patenaude of Southwest Allen County Fire Department covering about 74 square miles, including the GM plant and other industrial sites, is experiencing the same problems while volunteer recruits are getting tougher and tougher to find.
“We have had explosive growth in run volume in probably the last five years,” Patenaude said. “Everyone has.” His department had 812 runs in 2011; in 2021, there were 1,940.
Meanwhile, “The FCC is putting mandates on VHF,” Patenaude said.
Boren, accompanied by representatives from Southwest Allen, Arcola, Poe and East Central Fire departments, said the departments need the assistance to get here “before we have a catastrophe with the current VHF system gong down.”
“Every day we need reliable and dependable communications for us to be able to respond to emergency calls,” Boren said.
Commissioner Nelson Peters said he and the other commissioners want to help out the fire departments.
“You have townships and departments. We have to sift through it and make sure we are equitable. Some of them don’t have the capital budgets that others do. As we move through, we’re going to have to put some guard rails on it to be as fair as we can be,” Peters said.