By DENISE A. RAYMO
---- — MALONE — Blaring tones barked from laptops every few seconds, cutting the silence in a conference room at the Franklin County Emergency Services Center.
“It’s gotten so we don’t even hear it anymore,” laughed Deputy Director John Bashaw II from among the rows of neatly stacked little boxes that sat on a table beside him.
Bashaw and communications specialists Jamie Gratton and Sandi Dunn created the piercing sound over and over for two days as they programmed each of the 788 new high-band-frequency pagers that will be distributed to firefighters in northern Franklin County.
The new system has been six years in the making and is intended to streamline and improve communications among fire departments, specially trained personnel and the dispatch center.
ONLINE IN MAY
It will also eliminate the clash of pager tone-outs with dispatcher communications when the system becomes operational around the first week in May.
Signals will be bounced among seven repeater sites in Dickinson, Duane, Malone, Chateaugay, Bangor, Westville and Bombay.
Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake firefighters have a separate paging system, using microwave-repeater sites at towers in Malone, Perry Hill, Reynoldston and Chateaugay.
The changeover will allow dispatchers to page all personnel with the push of one button should a large-scale incident occur.
They will also be able to target pages to an individual or handful of people assigned to one of the agency’s specialized teams, such as hazardous-materials response or Fire Police.
The equipment used for the existing paging system dates back to 1967, “before pagers were even invented,” said Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost.
Modifications have been made in the past 15 or 20 years to blend in new technology, but it has grown too expensive and much harder to find replacement parts for the antiquated system.
Federal funding became available in 2009 through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Integrated Emergency Communications Grant program, and the county was awarded $775,000, with a percentage of local matching funds needed.
The county’s share was to be $193,750, but through other grants and programs that Emergency Services had access to, the upgrade cost taxpayers just $60,000, Provost said.
“The county did something of direct benefit to all the fire departments,” he said of the legislators. “That $60,000 they ponied up helped every community in the county.”
However, Canada caused a delay in getting the system operational by repeatedly opposing Franklin County’s petition to obtain a license for a high-band frequency.
Canadian officials feared their own emergency dispatching, as far away as Montreal, would be compromised.
“We reapplied three times and requested that third time that they do an actual test, and we were able to prove to them we would not get into their system,” Provost said.
Once the license was secured, equipment was installed, and the final piece of programming and distributing the pagers began.
Dunn said she, Bashaw and Gratton were installing batteries in each pager, turning them on — which created the shrill sound — then programming them to accept call-out tones specifically set for the user’s needs.
For example, regular firefighters would have that tone on their pagers, but if the person were a firefighter and a fire coordinator, member of the Fire Police or another specialty team, his or her pager would have all of those tones installed, too.
All serial numbers for the pagers and the names of the person it is assigned to will be entered in a computer database. That way, if one is lost and turned in, it can be returned to its owner, Dunn said.
Fire departments are to begin picking up their boxes of assigned pagers and chargers this week.
Email Denise A. Raymo:email@example.com