Firefighters to receive new radios

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2012

By Shavonne Potts
SALISBURY — In a few months, the Salisbury Fire Department will add a new piece of equipment that’s just as important as a firefighter’s turnout gear.
The department will receive 50 “ruggedized” radios by mid-June. The radios, which weigh less than a pound each, are made by Motorola Solutions and are submersible, dual-sided and capable of tracking a firefighter’s location inside a structure.
Fire officials recognized the need for a tougher radio after firefighters Justin Monroe and Victor Isler died March 7, 2008, while battling a fire at Salisbury Millworks.
Fire Chief Bob Parnell said upon inspecting the radios Salisbury firefighters currently use, the department discovered about 40 percent had some type of damage, including corrosion, or had been dropped.
The new radios, which cost around $185,000, were provided by the county.
A group of city, fire and telecommunications officials were on hand Tuesday to see how they work. Parnell called the radio one of the most advanced on the market.
“The features, the construction and technology are much greater,” Parnell said after the event.
The radios are guaranteed to last at least 10 years. They are shock resistant and features larger buttons and knobs than typical radios.
The radio can determine if a firefighter is down for a certain length of time, after which it will be beep and alert others the firefighter may be in trouble.
The radio also has a strobe light type feature that helps a rescuer find a firefighter in the dark if he or she is in trouble and cannot respond verbally, said Danny Sanchez, a business development manager with Motorola Solutions.
And a future technological upgrade will allow the radio to monitor a firefighter’s vital signs while he or she is inside a structure.
The radios are “designed for firefighters by firefighters,” Sanchez said during the demonstration.
Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette also spoke during the demonstration. His department lost a firefighter in July as it battled a five-story medical office building fire.
Burnette played recordings from emergency radio communications the day of the fire, which he said someone intentionally set, and talked about the importance of communication between firefighters as well as between the firefighters and 911 communications.
New radios aren’t the only way local officials are working to keep firefighters safer.
Sometime this year, the Fire Department will also be able to use GIS technology to help track firefighters as they make their way through a structure, said Allen Cress, supervisor of the county 911 center.
Parnell also talked about the importance of having a dispatcher who would maintain 911 communications just with the fire departments.
Rowan County Manager Gary Page said at the end of the presentation the county saw a need for such a setup.
He also said the county has previously not been financially able to add a dispatcher, but the topic came up at a recent budget session.
“We’ve laid the groundwork to get those added in this year’s budget,” Page said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.