Crawford County emergency communication towers to be upgraded
By Correne Martin
The Crawford County Fire Officers Association has received an Assistance to Firefighters Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to improve communication between dispatch and emergency personnel during emergencies. The grant for $237,025 will be used to upgrade communication towers for fire, EMS and law enforcement in the county.
According to Crawford County Emergency Management Director Roger Martin, the county will pay an additional $12,475, or 5 percent, toward the project.
“Our towers have not been reaching to all areas of the county,” Martin said. “We have issues with static and interference, and the range isn’t very good at all.”
Crawford County currently has four radio towers in the Prairie du Chien, Wauzeka, Seneca and Rolling Ground areas. The Seneca tower is the oldest; it was installed in the early 1960s. The Rolling Ground tower is actually owned by the DNR and the county added its equipment to it in 2005.
New FCC regulations required a change in technology by Jan. 1, 2013, which made channel capacity greater. But that resulted in a loss of coverage for Crawford County, Martin said.
“We used to have about 70 percent with handheld, but now it’s considerably worse,” he stated. “We’re going to be doing some testing to find out the percentage of coverage we have now.”
Communication equipment is a critical aspect of emergency personnel’s ability to protect the public. It allows communication between dispatch and officers in the field. But when coverage is weak, law enforcement and emergency responders can have trouble radioing for aid or hearing urgent details of an emergency. This could potentially compromise the public’s safety.
“If you need an ambulance and we can’t get in touch with dispatch, you’re not going to get the assistance you need,” Martin said. “We have cell phones and CodeRed, but those are only backups, and we all know how cell phone coverage can be in this county. The towers provide our primary source of communication.”
With this Assistance to Firefighters Grant, coverage is supposed to improve as the existing towers are connected together by a microwave link. Martin said this is just one step toward the best level of coverage available. Ideally, Crawford County Emergency Management would like to see four more towers in various locations throughout the county, but that means much more money is needed.
Until then, the county will move forward with the bidding process for this project. The county has a one-year timeline in which to complete the work.
Grant County Emergency Management Director Steve Braun and former Prairie du Chien firefighter and current Grant County Deputy Nate Gallagher assisted with obtaining the grant. Martin said Braun has had significant success with the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program in the past and Gallagher helped pull statistics together.
A committee consisting of Martin, 911 Director Julie Cipra, Sheriff Dale McCullick and President of the Crawford County Fire Officers Association Adam Trautsch will oversee the grant.