Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


From the Track

Adams Co. Emergency Communications

Kip Hamilton

(Feb, 2012) Wednesday, January 18th was a sad day in Adams County. On behalf of the Officers and Members of Fairfield Fire & EMS, Adams Co. Company 2, I would like to express our deep sadness and heartfelt condolences to the members of United Hook & Ladder, Adams Co. Company 33, for the tragic loss of Firefighter Brandon Little who gave his life while responding to a fire call on Wednesday.

By all accounts, Brandon was an outstanding young man who had recently graduated from his FF1 class and was currently attending an EMT class. Even at the young age of 19, he had decided to devote his life to the Fire Service as a career. He had a handful of very close friends at Fairfield and will be sorely missed. Every now and then life has this cruel way of crashing down on us just as a reminder of how both precious and fragile our existence on this plane really is. We all can lose a loved one in the blink of an eye. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Brandon’s family and friends at this difficult time. We hope that they find comfort from the outpouring of love from the community and from the Brotherhood of Fire and EMS personnel that they will surely receive. Please keep his loved ones in your prayers.

So, here is a quick question: who knows what was installed back in the 1950’s, was last updated in 1979, fails almost on a daily basis, requires repair parts to be searched for and purchased on eBay and someday you might need to rely on to save your life? Anyone know what I’m talking about?

I am, of course, referring to the antiquated Adams Co. Emergency Communications system that the 911 dispatch center currently uses to communicate with Police, Fire, EMS units as well as snow plows and other governmental vehicles. It is made up of some equipment that is so old that there are no sources of repair parts left. They literally have to hunt for old or used repair parts on eBay and other nonconventional sources in order to keep the system working…and peoples’ lives depend on this system on a daily basis!

Not only that, but Adams County is the only one of the surrounding counties in both PA and MD which has not yet upgraded to the new 800Mhz trunked radio system. Remember the main problem that was identified during the aftermath of 9-11? All of the responders coming from different jurisdictions, even units operating in the same city were unable to communicate with each other because they all had different, sometimes completely incompatible communications equipment. We have the same issue in Adams County. In fact, at Fairfield, we had to purchase dedicated portable radios that are compatible with the Frederick County system so that when we runs calls into Maryland we can talk to them!

Another big problem for us is that there are numerous communication dead spots, especially in Fairfield’s response area because of the hilly terrain. There are lots of areas where we and the law enforcement units go where our radios just won’t work.

Picture in your mind…you are on your way home with the two kids in the back seat. Let’s say you’re on a road like Iron Springs or Cold Springs that winds through the mountain. You’re late for dinner. It’s dark. You round a curve and meet a family of deer in the road. You swerve to miss the gaggle of startled animals and run off the road. Your car ends up on its roof after you hit a tree. You are shaken but ok. Your airbag went off. Then you notice the quiet. It’s too quiet. Are your kids ok? They must be hurt. In the meantime, a homeowner heard the crash in the stillness of the night and called 911. Our normal accident response is our engine rescue and a single ambulance. We finally locate your overturned car in the woods, but not only are there three patients, but both your kids need a paramedic. We get on the county radio to request two additional ambulances and two medic units for your children. We get no reply, so we try the message again. Once again we get nothing. Your kids’ condition is getting worse and we are unable to call for help. Farfetched? Not at all. We deal with communication issues of one sort or another every day. This is why it is critical that our patchwork radio system be replaced, now.

"So, what’s the big deal?" you say. "Let’s trash this dinosaur system and get something up-to-date and dependable!" Like everything else these days, it’s a money issue. The current estimates put the cost of the entire system in the neighborhood of $30 Million. Which municipality can pony up that amount of money in times like these?

The fact is that it must be done and it will be cheaper now than putting it off. There are now signed contracts in place that will expire if they’re not ratified and the renegotiated prices will be higher. Where will the funding come from? I don’t know…that’s not my job. It IS, however, the job of our local governments to provide us with emergency services. They have the responsibility to fund the project. And it needs to happen now. Please lend your support to this much-needed effort.

Our current radio system is like your old car…it will sort of run ok until it doesn’t. Now picture yourself back inside your wrecked car listening to the EMT’s frantically trying to call for more help for your kids.

Read other articles by Kip Hamilton