Monday, September 20, 2010

TOP STORY >> Volunteer firefighters’ alert system is broken

IN SHORT: Several departments are affected, but Lonoke County Quorum Court seeks remedy.

By Joan McCoy
Leader staff writer

The paging system that calls volunteer firefighters to fires and medical emergencies in northern Lonoke County is on the blink and no one knows who’s in charge of repairing it.

There are several volunteer fire departments in northern Lonoke County. Those affected by the problem include Ward, Austin, CS&Z and Mountain Springs.

Cabot is on a separate system from the volunteer departments and Fire Chief Phil Robinson said it is problem-free.

Justice of the Peace Barry Weathers brought the situation to the attention of the Lonoke County Quorum Court on Thursday night, saying he stood beside Ward Fire Chief Randy Staley when his pager went off. Only about one-third of the call was understandable, Weathers said, adding that Staley told him that was the best it had been in weeks.

Contacted Friday morning, Staley said the problem has been bad for “quite a while and really bad for six to eight months.”

Sometimes only the tone comes through and sometimes garbled speech. Often he calls the dispatcher on the phone to get the information repeated, sometimes saying, “Just give me the address and I’ll find out what the problem is when I get there.”

To their credit, the dispatchers always come through with the emergency information he needs, Staley said. But what he really needs to know is who’s in charge.

Jimmy Depriest, head of the county’s office of emergency services, and Sheriff Jim Roberson attended the quorum court meeting and both said they weren’t responsible.
The sheriff said he would check with Myra Bryant, over 911, to see if her office is responsible.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said if the fire departments aren’t getting their pages then the county has a problem and asked Weathers and Justice of the Peace Tim Lemons to find out who is in charge of repairs.

Staley said he’s “not one to stir up a stink” but that’s all he really wants.
“When you’ve got so much static on a line, that’s a problem,” Staley said. “I just want to find out who’s over this so I can go talk to someone and solve the problem.”
Staley said he thinks the trouble might be with a repeater located somewhere on Highway 5. A representative for Motorola told him it could be the antenna or possibly a cable.

Staley said he believes the system was installed about 20 years ago by the Lonoke County Fire Chiefs Association with the understanding that someone, the county judge maybe, would maintain it.

“Just tell me who is over it so when we do have a problem we can go talk to them,” he said.