Can you hear me now? Radio upgrade nears completion

The town’s $3.7-million public safety radio system upgrade that started in 2012 is expected to be operational by April 1.

Work on adding an antenna to an existing Moses Mountain tower in Danbury begins this week, according to deputy emergency manager, Dick Aarons. It’s the final piece in linking the signals among five different antennas around town.

Aarons  said Moses Mountain was the final and key location that will enable all public safety departments — police, fire, parks and recreation, highway, and emergency management — to start using the new Motorola digital radio system in all communications.

He said the system will guarantee all public safety responders 95% communication from any house in Ridgefield through their portable radios.

The Board of Selectmen approved paying $1,800 a month to lease antenna space on the Moses Mountain at its Jan. 18 meeting.

From analog to digital

Aarons said that for more than 40 years the town has added to each agency’s stand-alone radio systems  as population needs grew. Each agency had problems communicating with one another, but the new system allows radio communication among all agencies.

The existing “analog” system was also a problem because various remote antennas for receiving were connected to headquarters by phone lines.

“If a storm hits the trees, they can take the wires down, taking down the remote receivers,” he said.

This can strain communications between headquarters and officers or firemen in the field, especially with the town’s hilly terrain that can block signals.

The new digital system will no longer rely on phone lines.

“Transmitters and receivers all over town –– the five sites –– instead of being hooked up by phones line will use microwave lines, all communicating with each other,” said Aarons.

Other locations

The antennas, as well as small buildings supporting the new digital equipment, have already been set up on  Peaceable Ridge Road, Old Stagecoach Road, Farmingville Road, at Boehringer Ingelheim, and at police headquarters on East Ridge Road.  

New radios have been installed in all agencies’ vehicles, except the fire department’s, Aarons said. The system supports both analog and digital communications, and the departments will make the switch to digital once Moses Mountain is completed. Digital works like a cell phone while analog works like an FM radio.

Aarons said installing digital radios in the fire department can happen only after the full system is in operation, because, as opposed to the other departments, its radio frequencies can’t operate on the new system’s analog mode.

Highway and Parks and Recreation Departments have been testing the digital radios for the past month, Aarons said.

“The system is working just the way we want it to, where we know it should be working,” he said.  

‘Relay point’

Motorola is absorbing the costs of construction on the Moses Mountain tower, Aarons said.

The tower is in a critical location because it provides radio coverage to the northeast part of the town, as well as Bennett’s Farm and the Route 7 valley.

“If this town were named Flatfield, we wouldn’t have to do that,” he said. “But it’s Ridgefield and we need these towers to peak into valleys.”