Pa. fire chief questions council about ongoing radio problems


By Jim McMahon
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)  

BALDWIN, Pa. — Communication is a vital aspect of any organized emergency response effort, and this is especially true for volunteer firemen who risk their lives while protecting the lives and properties of others.

But a radio problem that has existed for the last five months, after Baldwin Borough switched to the county's 911 system has several fire chiefs questioning why their concerns haven't been answered.

At a recent council meeting, Paul Bronder, fire chief of Baldwin Independent Fire Company No. 1 on Churchview Avenue, criticized the efforts of Ken Guerra, the borough's emergency management coordinator, in resolving an issue with new equipment purchased to be compatible with the county's 911 system.

"Someone will get seriously injured or die," warned Chief Bronder of a problem with dead spots, which are areas in which communications are lost. He said such spots and other glitches prevent fire signals from being received by members to alert them to a fire call.

Fire Chief Len Novak, of the Becks Run Independent Fire Company, complained that none of his radios work in the fire station.

The frequency of the new radios is different from the old ones and Chief Bronder attributes the problems to an insufficient number of satellite sites and the need for a new base antenna to strengthen signals and increase range.

The Firemen's Relief Association purchased a total of 100 pagers, 30 portable radio units (walkie-talkies) as well as base units for vehicles and for stations for the borough's four volunteer companies at a cost of $102,000.

Chief Bronder called for the resignation of Mr. Guerra, a former councilman and fire chief who was appointed as the borough's emergency management coordinator in March 2006.

The chief said emergency management meetings are often held without representatives from all public safety units being invited.

Councilman David Depretis, chairman of the public safety committee, also questioned Mr. Guerra's efforts to resolve these problems.

However, at the August agenda meeting, Councilwoman Shirley Kuchta criticized the councilman for writing a letter to Bob Full, the county's emergency management coordinator, about the deficiencies in the county's 911 system without having council's formal approval.

In response to these comments, Mr. Guerra agreed that there's a problem but said, "I'm doing as much as I can."

He said that he regularly calls the county about these issues. He said that further tests would be conducted on areas where dead spots have been reported.

Council directed him to "put in writing" any further correspondence with county officials. 

Copyright 2007 P.G. Publishing Co.

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