02/01/12 — County says radio rules need to be followed

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County says radio rules need to be followed

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 1, 2012 1:46 PM

Inferior lapel microphones and handheld radios smothered by bulky firefighter turnout gear has contributed to the poor performance attributed by many Wayne County emergency personnel to the county's new $10 million emergency communications system and its new radios, county officials say.

The county did not purchase the lapel microphones because they are not required pieces of equipment and not every department uses them, Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said last week.

The county did provide the specifications for any additional equipment and accessories that fire, rescue or law enforcement agencies would use with the new radio system, he said.

"There are certain things that are their responsibility," Smith said. "We bought them the basic equipment and said, 'If you want accessories that is your deal.' We spent over $2 million on radios. Some don't like them (lapel microphones). Some know they may not be effective and if you throw turnout gear that is thick and has fire retardant stuff and you put it (radio) underneath... .

"... I don't care where you have that mike -- that mike is just a piece of wire to the radio that is trying to transmit and receive underneath all of this equipment. Plus you are standing next to a truck, you may be in a situation where you are running other electronic equipment and you put it under turnout gear, too. You are killing the effectiveness."

The county has worked to retrain emergency providers on where they need to place their portable radios, said Joe Gurley, director of the county Office of Emergency Services.

"They cannot put it underneath their turnout gear coat that is heavy, a big large shield, and expect it to work like it ought to," Gurley said

Fire chiefs have reported on numerous occasions that firefighters were placing the portables under the turnout gear, Smith said.

"They still can, but the performance isn't going to be as good as the standards are written," Gurley said. "It was clear to start with, and we just had to readdress that through meetings and e-mails again.

"As far as the lapel mike, as long as they mount it like they are supposed to and use it like they are supposed to with the right equipment, I don't know of any performance issues."

Smith said he did not think the county would have been any better off to have bought the microphones.

"No," he said. "If you go out there, you don't see that many of them. The only ones we bought them for were the Sheriff's Office. That is our department. Look at deputies, they all don't have them. We didn't buy them for every deputy. They said they wanted them for certain units."

"I think even if you had bought them, they would have still made that switch," Gurley said. "Someone is going to want one with a shinier button. It isn't going to be shiny enough and they are going to go out and buy their own or add to it. They would have been changed out sooner or later anyway.

"We had a problem early on with, I think they called them the Stone Mountain mike, that was not integrating well with the portable radios. If you buy a Cadillac, you need to buy Cadillac parts to replace the fenders you wreck. You don't need to put Honda parts on them. The same thing with whatever type radio -- it needs to stay the same standard format. That was one big issue."

The reason to standardize was to make it easier to maintain and replace equipment. Smith said.

"But when folks start changing the type of equipment added to the system, you have a problem," Smith said. "You have a problem in the ability to purchase. I am not going to purchase seven types of radios. When you vary from that, there will be problems."

It also creates problems where software for the equipment is concerned, Gurley said.