MALONE -- For two years, Canadian authorities have blocked Franklin County's attempts to use a high-band radio frequency to improve emergency communications.

Now, lawyers are being asked to get involved to find a solution before $149,000 in grant funds to buy new Enhanced 911 radio equipment is wasted.

Emergency Services Director Malcolm Jones told legislators Thursday that his agency's fourth request for permission to use a frequency is about to be rejected by the Federal Communications Commission because, for the fourth time, Canada opposes the move.

"It has basically died a slow death," he said in describing the latest application.

The county says it needs the upgrades to comply with state officials who want that inter-agency communications available in the event of a disaster.

Jones asked legislators for permission to have the county attorney contact a lawyer who has experience dealing with the Federal Communications Commission to try to get some cooperation north of the border.

The frequency assignment would allow 911 dispatchers to talk with all public and private emergency-medical service units, hospitals, county Public Health Nursing Service nurses and emergency-services personnel on a single channel and bring unit-to-unit conversations to personnel for the first time.

Deputy Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost has worked on the idea since April 2006, applying to the FCC for the network upgrade.

An agreement made between the two governments in the 1930s says Canada must sign off before a radio band will be assigned.

Canadian officials have been reluctant to do that, they say, because American calls on a frequency might bleed over to calls as far away as Montreal and interfere with communications.

"How can a foreign government influence a 50-mile radius within the United States?" asked Saranac Lake Democrat Timothy Burpoe.

"This is putting our people in jeopardy," said Malone Democrat Gordon Crossman.

And the future of $149,000 in grant money is also at stake, Jones said.

He said he has the money to buy 220 mobile and portable radios and the receivers and repeaters needed so all necessary personnel would have communications capabilities. All is funded through a grant secured by Emergency Services that must be used before April 21, 2009.

If the county buys the equipment but does not end up getting a high-band-frequency assignment to use with it, "we'll be sitting with a bunch of equipment we can't use," he said.

draymo@pressrepublican.com

Recommended for you