County to consider radio upgrades for fire departments

A decades long problem with rural fire departments’ radio communication could come to an end.
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 9:38 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - The Craighead County Public Service Committee unanimously passed an appropriation ordinance that would transfer $450,000 of COVID-19 relief funds to fund the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN) Infrastructure Fund.

The money would be used to upgrade the radio systems in the county to a digital radio system, which E-911 services like Jonesboro use.

Volunteer Fire Services in Craighead County have been using analog radios to communicate with dispatch, which two volunteer departments called a major issue.

“Sometimes you get static,” Lake City Assistant Fire Chief Ronald Nunnally said. “You have to talk for several calls back and forth with the 911 before you get a clear spot and you can find out what’s going on or you can call for help.”

Chief Nunnaly mentioned it was fifteen minutes before the Lake City Volunteer Fire Department could respond to an assistance call in Caraway on Sunday night.

Philadelphia Fire Chaplain Curtis Miller says firefighters at the Philadelphia Fire Department struggle with a similar issue.

“We may or may not get the page because of location in whatever building we’re in,” Miller said. “If we are called out sometimes it is hard for us to get back with dispatch on the radio to let them know we are responding.”

Some towns and fire departments have tried to find funding on their own and have not been successful.

Monette Mayor Bob Blankenship told Region 8 News the city has had to spend $50,000 in the past to be sure they are able to have a proper line of communication in the county.

Miller mentioned the upgrade to digital radio will be more expensive, ranging from $1,500 - $2,500 for handheld radios.

Both departments have said their ability to communicate has hurt their ISO class rating, which currently stands at a 5.

The appropriation ordinance will be brought before the full quorum court for approval.

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