Fire Chief Robert Klem carries multiple radios running on different frequencies at an emergency scene. There is the radio built into his personal truck, then there’s the hand-held radio he uses to communicate with police, the state radio to reach different municipalities, and the low-band radio to communicate a short distance. He also carries the department’s portable radio, which operates through a repeater on fire engines. 

“In the age of cell phones, the fire department radio system is inefficient,” said Klem. 

Beyond having a small arsenal of radios to communicate with public safety agencies, the department’s outdated radio technology creates other problems.

“There are large areas where our fire department’s radios are unable to reach dispatch,” said Klem. “In the upper section of Easton I can’t reach dispatch unless I’m on the top of a hill.”

Klem has known for some time that the department’s radio system needs upgrading, so he wasn’t surprised a consultant’s report found the system to be “archaic and obsolete.” 

The 140-page report, authored by Virginia-based  Emergency Services Consulting International, was presented to the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 17. Several board and commissioners members and emergency service personnel were present at the meeting when the report was presented. 

The town hired the consultant last year to analyze the town’s fire and EMS system. The analysis looked at staffing levels, volunteer recruitment and retention, response protocols, and the fire department and EMS structure.

First Selectman David Bindelglass said the consultant’s findings gave the fire department and EMS a favorable report on their response times to emergency calls, but the fire department’s radio communication system needs to be addressed. 

The report found emergency departments can’t effectively communicate with each other because their radios take place on different frequencies.

“It’s something we have to address soon,” said Bindelglass. “It gets top priority.”

According to the report, the Easton Fire Department’s radios operate on a LF “low band” frequency while the Police, EMS Town radios use VHF “high band” radios. That means the agencies can’t speak to each other on their radios.

A third, Ultra High Frequency, UHF, radio is used to communicate with departments in other towns when responding to mutual aid calls. Easton firefighters “cannot communicate with any of them unless they have a radio provided to them by the agency they want to speak with,” the report found. “This means there is a significant complication when Easton is part of a firefighting team composed of outside departments,” according the report.

“At this time, Easton is unable to communicate with mutual aid departments. Trumbull we can’t communicate unless they give us a radio,” Klem said.

The consultant’s report offered two options for the fire department to upgrade their radio system. The first is to switch to the VHF radio system that the police and EMS use. That would allow communications at least between those units the fire department interacts with most frequently. The report states this is the lower cost option because the infrastructure is already in place and the fire department would only need to purchase the radios and receive Federal Communication Commission licensing.

The second option would be to participate in a regional communications system. Fairfield and Redding operate in the UHF band and use a communications system technology known as ‘trunking’ which allows for a more efficient use of available radio frequencies, the report states. 

“The technology is out there to upgrade the system,” said Klem. “It’s just about what we spend the money on. Do we go with better but still older technology, or the latest technology?”

Klem said he’s in favor of hiring a company to study the tech options that are available that consider Easton’s topography and the needs of the department.

“We pushed for this consultant to help with the state of our emergency services,” said Klem. “We need to do something.”

Photograph by Rick Falco

Editors’ note: The report can be accessed here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email