Fire, police department test out new radio system

Every department in town — police, fire, highway, parks and recreation, and emergency management — has made the switch to the new $3.7-million public safety radio system, but not without some expected speedbumps.

“It’s just a little tweaking,” said Dick Aarons, the town’s emergency management director. “We’ve been taking it one department at a time this year — it’s a very sophisticated system.”

Aarons told The Press Monday, July 31, that the cops were the last to make the switch to the digital system earlier that day, but that it was the fire department that presented the most challenges.

“They’re having trouble inside buildings,” he said. “That’s why we’re beginning a two-week experiment today with the fire department and plotting areas where we know the new system works and finding areas that still need to be tweaked.”

The major challenge is Ridgefield and all of its different peaks and valleys, Aarons said.

“It’s a challenge getting the frequency broadcast onto every single backroad,” he said. “We’re limited by the power of the transmitters.”

Shoring up the communication between the fire department’s medics and dispatch is what’s most essential during the two-week testing phase.

“We’re particularly concerned with the medics because they have to be able to communicate inside ambulances, inside houses and inside buildings,” Aarons said. “There’s been a couple of troubled spots where things have popped up.”

While highway crews and parks and recreation workers have had no problem broadcasting digitally since making the changeover earlier this year, Aarons expects police and fire to take about a month to perfect the new system.

“There are a lot of tests that need to be done, such as noise suppression,” he said. “Can they pick up a transmission when someone is talking next to a diesel generator or a chain saw? We’ll be adjusting the audio and testing all these different situations …

“The biggest concern is the fire department though and making sure the system works in all situations that they find themselves in,” Aarons said. “They need to be able to transmit and receive in all critical areas in town.

“This is a new system that comes with a new concept of operations that we’ll continue to tweak and test out for the next two weeks.”