Caraway fire chief concerned about fire dispatch system

Caraway fire chief concerned about fire dispatch system

CARAWAY, AR (KAIT) - Wednesday afternoon, Caraway Fire Chief Scott Browning attempted to call dispatch through his handheld radio. After no response, Browning explained how this is hurting his community.

"Loud and clear." It's what first responders need to hear from dispatch when an emergency call goes out. But in one Craighead County town, all they're getting is static.

Until the problem is fixed, that's adding seconds and confusion to valuable response time.

The current fire paging system in the eastern part of the county is, as Browning explains, a hit or miss on the radios. The fire paging system is separate from the 911 system, which is 100% operational in the county according to E911 Director Jeff Presley.

As for the fire paging system, Browning says, "If I was at a scene right now, if I was at your house, say you needed a helicopter to come land and I can't call the helicopter, I'm busy taking care of you, I holler at dispatch to call the helicopter, they didn't hear me."

Almost on cue, dispatch responds, but not with the message Browning wants to hear.

"Any calling dispatcher, your radio is staticky, I can't copy."

This is a problem Browning said happens on a daily basis. 

"It's been about 3 years now," Browning said. In 2011, FCC regulations required use of narrowed bandwidths. Since that change, communication rarely goes through for the Caraway Volunteer Fire Department.

"You almost get numb to the fact that this is the best we're going to get," he said.

Browning explained that neither their handheld radios or pagers communicate well with dispatch.

"If they do receive a page, it's so unclear you can't understand the dispatcher to know where you're going."

Dispatch tested the pagers for us but even in the fire department, directly beneath the antenna, all you could hear was static.

"And obviously you can't get on your handheld to ask them where you're going cause it's not working so it's just poor reception on both pieces of equipment."

Though the Caraway Volunteer Fire Department receives numerous calls a month, instances over the last year have highlighted how big of a need this is.

The first instance involved a paramedic unable to understand exactly where a deadly accident had occurred.

"Whether we had been there the extra 5 minutes, if it would have made the outcome different, we don't know but I know it would have improved the chances," Browning said.

Browning said during the aftermath of the tornado that hit last Halloween, emergency responders had to relay information to the sheriff's department to relay to dispatch.

"Not only is that a delay in time, but that's eating up two different radio frequencies," Browning explained.

Just this week, a small electrical fire broke out at the elementary school but Browning said only two firefighters heard the page.

"I actually received a call from the principal because no one was responding and it had been over 10 minutes and no one was there," Browning said. That call had to go to his personal cell phone as he did not hear the page.

No one was injured and there was very minor damage but instance after instance, Browning is fed up.

"It can't be acceptable. Something has to be done."

What they need is a repeater to strengthen the signal. 

County Judge Ed Hill told Region 8 News that relief should come soon.

"The money's been approved, the quorum court approved a new line item to spend it through so it's moving good," Hill said.

"I'm just ready to see the grant come through, the equipment put into place and give us the protection that they have in Jonesboro and those surrounding communities on the western side of the county," Browning said.

Monette had been having the same problems but they have since received a spare, old repeater from the county. Hill and Browning said this hasn't solved the problem completely for Monette but it has made a world of a difference.

Hill said they should have grant money in hand for Caraway's repeater soon.

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