Pa. firefighters make switch to new 911 network

By Carl Lindquist
The York Dispatch

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Firefighters, fire police and ambulance personnel seamlessly transitioned to the new 911 radio network Wednesday night.

The switch, which occurred at 10 p.m., means all of York County's emergency response personnel are using the new, $36 million network. It is part of an estimated $67.8 million 911 project that also includes a new 911 center in Springettsbury Township.

"It was really what I would call a non-event, but for us it was huge," said Eric Bistline, executive director of York County Emergency Services.

"We have all been anticipating these moments of bringing these people over. The entire goal of this project was to make communication better for our public safety community."
Bistline said he's confident the new system will perform well for the groups that transitioned to the system Wednesday night.

Communication glitches that police experienced after they switched to the new system last year have been resolved, he said. Fire and ambulance personnel were only switched over to the new network after it passed a test in mid-June showing it would function without significant problems or repairs for 30 days.

The system had failed the test on the first go-around after an equipment failure made communication temporarily unreliable for several local police departments.

Hopeful: Spring Garden Township firefighters haven't really had a chance since the change to put the new system to the test but are hopeful it will work well, said township fire Lt. Lee Sowers.

The department early-on tested the new radios and was impressed with the strength and clarity of the transmissions.

The biggest benefit is the "interoperability" of the new system, which allows the firefighters to communicate more easily with other emergency responders and personnel in different fire departments, Sowers said.

With the old system, firefighters needed to switch radio equipment if they needed to communicate with the home fire department in a different jurisdiction, he said. Now they can communicate using their own radios.

The new system also allows firefighters to communicate with ambulance and fire police together on the same channel, he said.

Wrap-up: Wednesday night's transition doesn't bring the 911 project to complete closure.

Vehicle-mounted radios still need to be installed in some fire apparatus and one ambulance company, Bistline said. And the old radio system needs to be decommissioned.

He said the entire project should wrap up sometime in November, putting it 14 months behind the original schedule.

The system vendor and county officials will be keeping a close eye on the system's performance to ensure it continues to work properly, he said.

He expects minor individual problems as firefighters, fire police and ambulance personnel begin using the new equipment on a daily basis.

But 911 dispatchers are available to help with problems, he said.

"There is going to be a learning curve," Bistline said. "But we have trained our staff to help them through that."

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