Otisfield Fire Chief Kyle Jordan expresses concerns with the Oxford County Regional Communications System at a commissioners’ meeting Tuesday. Sun Journal photo by Jon Bolduc

 

PARIS — At an Oxford County Commission meeting Tuesday, Otisfield Fire Chief Kyle Jordan said that one thing has remained consistent over his 34 years as a firefighter: problems with the Oxford County Regional Communications System.

Jordan, representing himself and 38 other fire, EMS and law enforcement officers, read a letter to follow up with a request for an independent, third-party study into the state of the emergency radio broadcasting system made by Lovell Fire Chief Tommie McKenzie in February. Jordan said McKenzie’s request hadn’t received an official response from the commissioners.

According to Jordan, the problem is serious, and urgent.

“I’m here today because there is a problem with communications in Oxford County, and we’re running out of time,” Jordan read. “Someone in the field is going to get hurt just doing their job, and it will very likely be because of the problems with our communications system. Knowing that there are problems and doing nothing to address them is both unacceptable and irresponsible on everyone’s part, us included, and this is why I’m here today.”

He added, “We collectively hold strong in our request that funding for this assessment be included in the next Oxford County fiscal budget, the next director of (the dispatch center) be directed to have this review conducted as soon as possible upon approval of the budget.”

Jordan said he was informed during a Regional Communication Governing Board meeting that it had been 40 years since an assessment of the Communications Center had been conducted, and the time was “ripe” for another third party to come in and inspect the technical capabilities of the radio system, call-taking, technology capabilities and infrastructure.

Jordan also wanted a review of dispatchers’ responsibilities, procedures, dispatch staffing and shift schedules, supervisors and training, quality assurance and improvement, management, and the governing body of the communications center board. 

At the Feb. 19 meeting of the commission, McKenzie told commissioners that Oxford County’s broadcasting system is a one-way system. Unlike a telephone, on which two parties can talk at the same time, first responders and dispatchers have to take turns speaking.

McKenzie also said emergency responders must manually readjust their radios while traveling between towns or risk losing contact with the dispatcher.

McKenzie said the town’s broadcasting system has frequent service blackouts because of weather and equipment failure, leaving the affected area with virtually no communication. When a blackout happens, McKenzie said, certain agencies that are affected are not always notified when the power comes back on.

According to discussion at the Feb. 19 meeting, a survey could cost between $50,000 and $75,000 and, pending the results, a switch to a new system would run at least $1 million.

Commissioner Steven Merrill said the potential price tag warranted special consideration.

“It’s not something we’re going to come out and say, ‘Good, go for it,'” Merrill said. He asked the chiefs in attendance to consider pushing local selectmen to engage in the upcoming county budget committee in order to have the issue discussed during those meetings. 

“Make sure your town has an opportunity to have selectmen on the budget committee when it’s budget season,” Merrill said. “They’re going to explore opportunities to fund a project that requires this much money, and it’s  a lot of money. It’s very important that word gets through to us through the budget committee. It’s who is going to guide us. So, if you’ve got selectmen that aren’t participating, talk to them. If it’s important to you, it should be important to them.”

Jordan said he requested that discussion of the study be included as an agenda item for the commissioners’ meeting and was denied for reasons he found “unacceptable.”

Commissioner David Duguay clarified that the commissioners thought the discussion would be better suited for a workshop or a special meeting.

On Tuesday, a group of first responders attended the meeting to support Jordan, including Peru Fire Chief Bill Hussey, Norway Fire Chief Dennis Yates, Oxford interim Fire Chief Paul Hewey, and Mark Blaquiere, the deputy chief of the Paris Fire Department. 

“I agree 100%, it’s something that needs to be done,” Hewey said. “It’s time. Forty years, it hasn’t been done. Somebody’s going to get hurt. If I can’t talk to these guys and they can’t talk to me, we’re missing communications and maydays. If we can’t find someone in a fire because we can’t talk to them, someone’s going to get hurt or die.”


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