Stand-by plan activated for Pa. 911 system outage

Technicians were not sure what caused the equipment problem; the affected equipment is about 10 years old

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

BUTLER COUNTY, Pa. — Butler County firefighters and ambulance crews spent Saturday at their stations as a precaution while technicians worked to correct problems with the county's radio dispatch system.

“Firefighters sitting in their stations is not a normal occurrence, so we're actually providing a higher level of service,” said Steve Bicehouse, director of Butler County Emergency Services. “The response time is probably faster because the stations are manned.”

Intermittent problems surfaced about noon Saturday with radio equipment that allows emergency personnel to tone out, or dispatch, fire and ambulance company calls. Police were not affected because they usually are on the road, Bicehouse said, and dispatchers can talk with them via radio transmissions.

People dialing in emergency calls to 911 were not affected.

While technicians worked on the problem, Bicehouse said, an alert was sent to firefighters and ambulance crews asking that they to go to their stations as a precaution. That way, emergency dispatchers could call stations or send text messages to send crews to incidents.

Once emergency crews were on the road, Bicehouse said, they were able to talk to each other and dispatchers through radio transmissions.

Dispatchers did have to make a few calls, Bicehouse said, including one to Connoquenessing for a bicycle accident and one to Cranberry EMS.

Bicehouse said technicians were not sure what caused the equipment problem. He said the affected equipment is about 10 years old.

“It's one of those issues that probably won't happen for 10 more years, but it's happening today,” Bicehouse said.

The Zelienople Volunteer Fire Department had several people at the station throughout Saturday afternoon, fire Lt. Scott George said. He said for smaller departments, it would be harder to muster the manpower to stay at the stations while the equipment is repaired.

“The signal's not getting through,” George said of the dispatch tones. “It's pretty weak.”

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