Earmark funds may help town’s 1st responders stay linked

Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Between Totoket Mountain and the Farm River, North Branford’s topography can make it difficult to receive radio signals in all areas of town.

Fire Chief William Seward III said that emergency personnel, including police officers and volunteer firefighters, sometimes do not receive messages on their pagers because they are in one of the area’s “dead zones.”

“There have been times where alarms haven’t been received,” Seward said. “Personnel didn’t receive the information over their pagers or in their vehicles.”

In the coming year, with the help of $500,000 in federal funding, the town is hoping to rectify the situation by installing a simulcast system using microwave technology that would allow multiple towers to send signals at the same time, eliminating many of the areas with poor reception.

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, visited police headquarters Monday to announce the earmark funding. The money was part of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which President Obama signed into law earlier this month.

“You’ve got a beautiful town here in terms of hills and valleys, but it creates mayhem for communications,” DeLauro said. “Now their personnel will be able to really not be at a disadvantage.”

North Branford officials submitted the application for the new equipment to DeLauro’s office last year.

The funding would implement a broadcast system that officials hope will cover 95 percent of the town. By broadcasting signals from several towers at once, the system could fill in the “dead zones.” It would also replace copper wire with microwave transmission, reducing the possibility that a tower could be knocked out due to problems with the wire.

Seward said it could take up to a year for the system to be operational, as the funding will become available in October. In the long term, he said, he is hoping that the equipment could improve regional cooperation by making it easier for departments to communicate with each other.

Town Manager Richard Branigan said the next step will be issuing a request for proposals for a company to set up and maintain the system. He added that the federal money will allow the town to address the problem sooner than with other funding sources, but it would have had to implement the upgrades even without the appropriation.

“Eventually the town would have to do something about this,” Branigan said. “How long it took would be a function of other budgetary priorities in town. … If you’re a volunteer firefighter and you can’t hear the signal at your house, that’s a problem.”

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