Consultant recommends fixes for radio dead spots in Veazie

Posted March 30, 2011, at 10:56 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — A Lewiston-based consultant this week presented a series of options for addressing radio dead spots that have been plaguing, perhaps endangering, local police, fire and public works personnel for years.

In his report, George Harris of Micronetixx, P.A., Consulting Engineers, said that an engineering study he conducted with input from Whitten’s 2-Way Radio Service of Brewer, the town’s communications equipment provider, concluded that the town’s current communications infrastructure has a number of deficiencies.

In his report, Harris recommended that the town invest in new, relatively low-cost repeater stations, which would involve the installation of one or two antennas. It also would require obtaining a license.

An evaluation of several possible sites turned up one Harris believes would offer the best predicted coverage, given the town’s topography — the water tank on Buck Hill in Veazie.

He said installing one antenna on top of the tank would provide reliable pager and radio communications for police and fire personnel. A second repeater would be needed to address public works needs.

The town is in the process of adding another repeater station for the Police Department, which now is using a repeater out of Old Town.

During a series of meetings and discussions with Harris, Veazie public safety and public works personnel and other local officials pointed out shortcomings with the current system, among them:

— Numerous “holes” in the reliability of the communication system.

— Pagers that do not activate when desperately needed.

— Personnel at the town office who cannot reliably reach people in the field when needed.

— Mobile repeaters that are 9 years old.

— A general lack of confidence in the overall performance of the system that is “highly frustrating” to local officials who depend heavily on the system to do their jobs effectively.

The consultant’s findings came as no surprise to Police Chief Mark Leonard and Fire Chief Gerry Martin.

Martin said Tuesday that communications problems have been a longtime issue for firefighters. He recalled a fire a few years ago on Buck Hill during which firefighters inside a burning home were unable to communicate with their counterparts outside.

Leonard, whose job also involves leading the Veazie Emergency Management Agency, or VEMA, had similar concerns.

“As far as the Police Department, there are numerous places around town that affect us in terms of communication, which is an officer safety concern. Being able to communicate with our dispatch center at a scene where you need backup just makes sense.”

It was unclear Monday if and when the communications improvements will be funded. Leonard said the town would explore grants and other funding sources.

According to Harris, the estimated cost for two repeaters would be $25,000, if electrical power was brought to the site. A solar power option would cost about $37,000, he said.

He said other alternatives he looked at, both of which would only have served the Fire Department, were cost-prohibitive at estimated costs ranging from $150,000 to $300,000.

Town Manager Bill Reed said the upgrade likely will be considered during this spring’s budget talks.

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