PEARL RIVER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Pearl River County Volunteer Firefighters say having proper equipment it's a matter of life or death. During times of emergencies the ability to communicate with one another, dispatchers and other first responders is vital when every second counts. The firefighters say they are running emergency calls with an antiquated radio communication system. A system they say has failed several times.
Back in 2012 a house less than 200 feet away from the Carriere Volunteer fire station burned to the ground before firefighters were ever alerted the house was on fire.
Firefighters are supposed to hear a special tone on their radios when there is a pending emergency. In the case of the house fire the volunteers never heard that tone.
"The dispatcher was putting out the dispatch, but was getting no response and was un-aware nobody was able to hear the dispatch because of the equipment failure," explained Chief Mark McCormick, of the South East Pearl River County Volunteer Fire Department.
Fortunately no one was home when that fire broke out.
McCormick said, "It was a wake-up call and a blow to a lot of people in our agency that we really needed to start dealing with this issue."
He said their communication system is more than 20-years-old and operates with out-dated technology. In certain parts of Pearl River County firefighters can't communicate with one another at all.
"We are getting a lot of static in the background comparable much to your analog TV. It's an open frequency and depending on the atmospheric conditions sometimes we can pick up off shore fishing boats and shrimpers, various people talking on these things. The frequencies bleeding over to our emergency communication frequency," said McCormick.
The firefighters say the most cost efficient solution is to piggy back on the state's digital communication system.
"Everybody from the Governor's office down to the National Guard to the State Highway Patrol to the game and fish to multiple police and fire agencies throughout the state are using this," said McCormick.
He said converting their old analog radio system to digital would cost the county about $500,000. Purchasing a brand new system alone could top $3 million.
"It's really tied into firefighters safety, if we have a firefighter on the scene that either gets trapped in the building or finds a downed victim or assaulted by someone their trying to help. They certainly need a way to call for assistance," said Chief Steve Seal of the Pine Grove Volunteer Fire Department.
WLOX News contacted the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors Monday. Board President Patrick Lee says the board has been made aware of the situation and board members share the firefighter's concerns.
Lee said the board is in the process of creating a committee to look at funding options to tap into the state's communications system.
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