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Fire department has radio system failure

The Park Rapids Fire Department's radio equipment failure is forcing the city to make a decision on a new system as soon as possible. (Enterprise photo)

The Park Rapids Fire Department is in need of new radio equipment after a system failure.

"We lost our base station, which is also our repeater," said fire chief Donn Hoffman. The equipment was old and on schedule to be replaced soon.

The first system failure was about two weeks ago, Hoffman said.

"We were down for a few hours," he said. "We found a device that was linked with our system that failed. We took that out of there.

"Then yesterday morning, we heard our open pagers squelch. We checked our system and, yes, in fact it wasn't working."

Rather than risk not being able to make a call, the fire department has elected to have Roger's Two Way Radio in Bemidji install a loaner system until new equipment can be ordered and installed.

It's not so simple, though.

"The reason we haven't already replaced it is because Hubbard County has not made the decision as to the radio system they are going to use, whether it be 800 Mhz or VHF," Hoffman said.

Right now, Hoffman said he doesn't think 800 Mhz would be supported right now because the towers aren't here. And the department can't wait.

The Park Rapids Fire Department, along with the police and public works departments, will recommend the city of Park Rapids go with digital VHF.

A user group has begun meeting to discuss and research the different systems before making a recommendation to the county board. The communications upgrade is a federal mandate.

If Hubbard County decides to go with the other system, Hoffman said the department would be OK.

"They are compatible at least until they narrow the band width," he said. "And right now, the 800 Mhz probably is not supported in the area. In other words, we don't have enough towers and infrastructure because it's simply line of sight."

Another aspect to consider in making the decision is that the department has an active FEMA grant that will pay for most of the new equipment. Nevis, Akeley, Laporte and Lake George are also part of the FEMA grant.

"I'm afraid that my counterparts in these other departments are probably leaning toward 800 Mhz," Hoffman said. "But we're going VHF."

The grant will need to be amended to accommodate the different departments.

"The local share on the FEMA grant is nominal, maybe $3,000 or $4,000," said city administrator Bill Smith.

The fire department, public works and police department will make the recommendation to go with VHF to the City Council at the next meeting in January.