New Signal Tower Boosting Fire/EMS Radios
Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Radio Tower Aiding Fire/EMS Responders:
A crane lifts the county’s new communication
tower into place 11 miles west of I-35 on
Oswalt Road. (Photo by Tracey Smithwick).
Love County fire and ambulance departments have been talking and listening on their own radio frequency since October 1.
The signal for the fire/EMS “repeater” is emanating from atop a new 250’ communication tower on Oswalt Road.
The new channel is freeing up airways once clogged by traffic on a repeater frequency that formerly was shared by all emergency services but now operates exclusively for law enforcement.
“The new repeater is helping people talk to their peers without interfering with other agencies,” said Love County Emergency Management Director Tracey Smithwick, who oversaw the tower construction project.
“We’ve needed this for years. We’ve had clustering problems. When there is a big event or more than one emergency going, the other departments clog normal access for law enforcement.”
The repeater tower for the law enforcement frequency is south of Marietta on Peak Hill, the highest point in Love County. Agencies using that repeater lease access to the tower from Arbuckle Communications.
The repeater tower for fire/EMS departments, though, is county-owned. It was built in September for $165,000 contributed from hospital trust fund monies.
The new tower is sited on the second-highest elevation of Love County, which turned out to be a Noble Foundation ranch 11 miles west of I-35 on Oswalt Road.
The Noble Foundation agreed to a 99-year lease for $1 on five acres of land to help the county carry out the initiative.
Love County Commission District 3, Bub Peery Commissioner, cleared a 400 yard gravel access road to the tower, which is on the south side of the road.
The Board of County Commissioners awarded the construction project to Shipman Communications of Denison, TX.
Funds for the project were paid out of the Wilkins Trust, which the Commissioners control, based on spending recommendations of the hospital.
Shipman Communications built a steel structure 250 feet tall and weighing 38,000 pounds. The tower was hoisted into place by crane and secured by guy wires on a 12’ x 12’ concrete pad.
A 14 kW generator, propane-fueled, provides backup electric power for a radio shelter structure.
Inside are two repeaters, one for fire/EMS departments, and one for use by Arbuckle Technology Society, which is made up of the area’s amateur (“ham”) radio volunteers engaged in emergency services or storm spotting.
The communication tower is registered with the FAA for flight mapping and with the FCC for radio mapping. The new repeaters became operational October 1.
The results of channel-splitting for the fire/EMS and law enforcement agencies, says Smithwick, are A-OK.
“They’re loving it. Every department can see a difference. They’ve had to compete to be heard on the radio for years. This is something we’ve wanted for a long time.”
Radios for all emergency agencies have been reprogrammed for two repeaters.
Responders are able to listen to traffic on both repeaters.
They can talk on both repeaters by keying a “simulselect” function.
However, Smithwick said, responders are being trained to radio the E911 dispatch center with information that needs to be relayed to all.
“At busy times of the evening, separate E911 dispatchers are running the law enforcement and fire/EMS repeaters. They simulcast all emergency pages, so everyone can hear and be aware.”
The Love County E911 dispatch office, managed by Becky Watkins, is advertising for volunteer reserve dispatchers to help cover the evening shift.
Emergency responders have been out and about the county the past few weeks bouncing radio communications off the new tower to test its range.
So far, coverage appears thorough in the south and west, with range-finding still underway in the east and north, Smithwick said.
Users will include 14 volunteer fire departments, led by Wesley Dill, chair of the Fire Chiefs Association; Love County EMS, led by Tad Hall, emergency room director of Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, and Arbuckle Technology Society, led by Roland Stolfa and past-president David Bond.
For citizens monitoring emergency radio traffic: The frequency for law enforcement is 155.595. The frequency for fire/EMS is 155.250. The frequency for amateur (“ham”) radio is 146.835.