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Firefighters concerned about inadequate county communications system
SHERRY LONG
The Ellis County Press

ELLIS COUNTY - Next time you have a medical emergency or a fire breaks out, your local rural volunteer firefighters may not come to your rescue.

Not because they don't want to. Sometimes they don't receive the calls alerting them to emergencies being sent from county dispatchers.

Due to their size, many rural fire and police departments do not have the resources to maintain their own dispatcher, so they are dependant on the dispatchers at the Ellis County Sheriff's Office.

For months local volunteer rural fire fighters say they have been having trouble receiving and making out gargled messages from the county dispatcher calling them to service.

'We're not getting the tones,' Forreston Volunteer Fire Chief Floyd McBride said, 'We can't understand what they're saying and can't communicate with dispatch. I feel it could eventually cost someone their life.'

Many rural fire department chiefs are calling their firefighters when needed through pagers or the firefighters' personal cell phones.

'I'm getting the calls on the phone then I page from here (at the fire station), Italy Volunteer Fire Chief Donald Chambers said, 'It adds a couple minutes.'

Two years ago Ferris Fire Chief Eddie Duran was one of the fire chiefs asking county commissioners to request and purchase a new radio channel to be designated just for the rural fire departments.

Duran said commissioners spent about $10,000 to purchase a new frequency from the Federal Communications Commission to ease radio traffic on the only frequency used at the time by the county sheriff's department.

Before the new radio frequency was

added, the original radio channel handled calls for rural fire and police departments and sheriff's department officers.

Ellis County Firefighters Association President Mark Jackson, County Judge Chad Adams, Emergency Management Coordinator Troy Willmon, sheriff's department officials and county fire marshals are holding periodic meetings with radio frequency experts to try to fix the problem

'Hopefully here in the very near future we will be able to get it fixed,' Ellis County Deputy Sheriff Charles Sullins said.

Sullins said after discovering the high band radio signal was beginning to interfere with the frequency in Van Zandt county, the signal was turned to a low frequency.

The county's emergency management department will be receiving a grant worth over $135,000 in two phases from the United States Department of Homeland Security Office of Domestic Preparedness.

'This is the money they (United States government) are giving out to communities to help combat possible terrorism,' said Willmon.

The money can be used to buy communications equipment, anthrax or smallpox vaccines or materials to arm first responders with the equipment they need to fight terrorism.

Volunteer firefighters said they are hoping to receive new communication equipment, which they hope will help combat the current problems.

'Whenever they find out what the communication problem is, it will be fixed,' Willmon said, 'It's (communication) the first priority.'

Willmon said he would be talking with department officials to see what they need, before purchasing any equipment.

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