St. John’s firefighters welcome a brand new, probably life-saving radio system information
ST. JOHN’S, NL –
In a job where quick communication can mean the difference between life and death, members of the St. John’s Regional Fire Department (SJRFD) agree – their outdated radio service must be saved.
The nearly 20 year old system has not only meant a limited number of single radios for firefighters who find themselves in potentially dangerous situations, but there are also several “dead spots” or blackout areas in the area where firefighters cannot reach the communication center, other stations and other firefighters.
“It’s terribly frustrating when you’re in Petty Harbor trying to get information from an (emergency) scene to our communications center and you can’t,” Craig Smith, president of the St. John’s Fire Firefighters Association, told the union which represents more than 200 members.
“As a local official, a lot of important information has to be passed on. Any delay can have a significant impact on an emergency if there is no communication. “
Craig Smith, president of the St. John’s Fire Fighters Association, said members look forward to having the old radio system replaced as there are certain areas in the area that have “dead spots” or blackout areas. – Photo of the SaltWire network file
Fortunately, help is on the way.
The department is expected to receive a new million dollar digital system next year to replace the current analog system thanks to funds allocated by the City of St. John’s. The third part of a four-phase rollout has been in progress for several years. The city council announced last week that it had allocated $ 750,000 to the new system, while the remaining $ 250,000 will be split between Mount Pearl and Paradise.
For firefighters concerned about the safety of their members and the public, the new system cannot come soon enough.
“If we’re in an area where the radio isn’t working, it means our Maydays are not being received or not being heard,” said Smith, referring to incidents where a firefighter may be trapped, injured, or disoriented and Need help.
A train chief from the St. John’s Regional Fire Department uses a portable radio at the site of a fire that destroyed a shopping mall in Paradise in March 2019. – SaltWire Network File Photo
The department relies on two communication receiver towers – in Shea Heights and Kenmount Hill. However, due to the geography and topology of Northeast Avalon, the department is not on duty in certain areas of Paradise, Goulds, Petty Harbor-Maddox Cove, and Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove where firefighters rely on cell phones to communicate with shipping.
“When we’re on a fire place and there are more than 15 or 20 members in a scene, we need to know what radio links are being received or given,” said Smith. “If there is a void or a gray spot there is a chance that information will not be received or delayed, regardless of whether it gets from a fire place to a commander at the command post and back to the central 911 fire station.
“This has happened several times in the past 23 years. It has always been a problem with us. “
With limited portable radios, only one in two firefighters on an emergency scene has one, he said.
Train conductor Gina Burke (right) uses a portable radio at the location of a suspicious fire in St. John’s in June 2020. – SaltWire Network File Photo
This could have been an issue during Snowmageddon last year when a firefighter responding to a call on the east end of the region fell through a floor in a building. Smith said the firefighter was one of the two without a portable radio. Fortunately, others were around to help and he returned to work unharmed.
A new system would help address these concerns.
“From a safety point of view, this is extremely important to us. Safety is always our first concern, ”said Smith. “The introduction of a new system gives firefighters an additional feeling of security.
“This has the potential to save someone’s life.”
The current system is so outdated that it has been difficult to find replacement parts.
Sherry Colford, chief of St. John’s regional fire department, said the emergency response was not affected despite 36 employees being unemployed due to COVID-19. – Photo of the SaltWire network file
Smith credits SJRFD chief Sherry Colford for recognizing the importance and need for a better communication system.
“Technology has changed, our needs have changed over the past 15 to 17 years, but our radio system has not,” she said.
“Over the past few years we’ve been doing workarounds (with the current system) and you can only do that until you realize that we just need to replace the entire system.”
Colford said the new digital system will have better functionality, integrate with existing software in the department’s communications center, and enable better audio quality.
“With an analog system, there is very little we can integrate with any other technology we have,” she said. “With this new system, there is a better chance of upgrading and growing.”
Colford said while the new system won’t provide 100 percent coverage, it will give the department a much wider range of where firefighters can use radios.
“A lot of it isn’t just because the technology is better,” she said. “That’s because we can use more technology when it comes to more antennas and more towers to better cover ourselves in those blackout areas. … It gives us more options. “
Colford said the call for proposals will be launched earlier this year. The new system is expected to go online in early 2022.
Rosie Mullaley reports on local politics for The Telegram.