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County Approves Coordination of Radio Frequencies for Direct Communications During Emergency Events

February 15, 2023

Mountaineer News

Upshur County Commission

BUCKHANNON - Dick Burnside, Secretary of the Enhanced Emergency Telephone Advisory Board (EETAB) addressed the Upshur County Commission on February 9th to request funds to add Ultra High Frequencies to the County’s toolbox for use in emergency situations.

According to Burnside, the Statewide Interoperable Radio Network (SIRN) is not designed for portable communications.

“The committee has for many years recommended the implementation of the local jurisdictions licensing frequencies on the UHF band (same as statewide network) that facilitate those local communications, realizing the Statewide Network is not designed for portable use,” Burnside said.

Watch Mr. Burnside's opening remarks to Commission:

“Presently, Upshur County has no frequencies available to do what we want on the UHF band, which is where the sheriff’s department, city police and the City of Buckhannon Fire Department use the statewide network. So, what EETAB is recommending is for the Commission to approve to add UHF simplex, low power frequencies to one of the licenses that Upshur County holds… for simplex or direct communications.” Burnside said.

Burnside provided diagrams to the Commission, one of which showed a firefighter in the basement of a building.

… “and if they’re using the statewide network, they would have to transmit 17 miles to the repeater, and then 17 miles back to the fire truck sitting on the outside of the building, which may not be able to happen because of the distance involved from that little 5-watt or 4-watt radio up to that tower as opposed to this diagram where that same firefighter in the basement of that building is talking directly to the fire truck 300 feet away,” he said.

A one-time fee of $2,000 was requested to acquire the new frequencies. For clarification, Burnside stated that the cost was for the coordination of the frequencies and not for licensing. Watch Mr. Burnside discuss the cost and the benefit of agencies opting to use the frequencies:

Steve Wykoff, director of the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was in attendance. Commission President Kristie Tenney asked if he had any concerns or comments relating to Burnside’s request.

Wykoff stated that he wasn’t well-versed enough on the radio frequencies to be able to offer information, but did confirm that the Comm Center would be unable to monitor or record the frequencies during emergency events:

Several local firefighters (both career and volunteer) were in attendance and expressed major concerns over the proposed acquisition of the new frequencies. Watch Buckhannon Fire Captain Joey Baxa address the request while seeking clarification:

Commissioner Sam Nolte clarified that Mr. Burnside’s request was just wanting to add another tool to the toolbox and that he wasn’t stating that the fire department had to use it, but they could if they chose to do so. Watch the full segment here:

Captain Baxa said that he feels that “the fire department is getting picked on an awful lot,” while Chief JB Kimble expressed that he didn’t think the request was handled properly.

“I feel this should have been handled a little differently. It should have came from a representative from EETAB… to groups like fire associations and police departments to say, hey, this is what we’re thinking about doing… not to have a meeting three weeks ago and then have it on the Commission agenda. So, I think there should be better communication.” Kimble said.

Commissioner Nolte again clarified that the request wasn’t fire-specific but for any of the emergency services who wanted to utilize it:

Watch Mr. Burnside address questions from local firefighters regarding the different systems utilized by the (fire) department and the legalities surrounding certain operating procedures:

Watch Mr. Burnside, Captain Baxa and Commissioner Nolte have further discussions and clarifications regarding the addition of new UHF for emergency situations:

Mr. Burnside stated that the order of business was to request funds to coordinate the frequencies and not to tell any agency how to do anything.

“How are we going to help the agencies do better? This is one tool that we wanted to offer to Commission to help you do that,” Burnside said.

Watch Commissioner Tenney address Mr. Burnside and Commissioner Nolte’s final comments and motion to approve the funding request, which was unanimously approved.

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