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Emergency personnel get new radios



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From left, Captain Danny White and Lt. Jeff Williams learn to use their new equipment. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
November 21, 2012 - By Gabriel Ouzounian

Review Co-Editor

Orion Township just got a little safer.

Thanks to the introduction of a new type of radio system, named 800 Opensky, fire, medical and police officials will now have a greater degree of control over who they communicate with inside and outside the township.

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Previously, if Orion Township interacted with outside departments, they would have to switch radios in order to communicate with them. Talk signals were on the same channel, causing people to talk over one another during an incident.

This led to a great deal of confusion during the 1998 Wixom Ford plant shooting, in which a SWAT team was left inside the building for around an hour searching for the shooter who was already apprehended. The accident happened due to poor communication methods and technology not suited to work with other agencies.

Thanks to that incident, Oakland County saw a need for departments to communicate and isolate signals, hence the new radio system.

"These radios are capable of having multiple groups and each profile has 16 channels to talk in," said Orion Township Fire Chief Bob Smith. "Even if we went a neighboring department we would have to switch radios. If we had any major incidents it was a problem. But now we just switch a couple knobs and we can communicate with our neighboring departments. This is obviously better than before, when we needed to have a special radio to communicate with other departments."

The system, which went live on Nov. 5, was taught to fire fighters before it began working. The system is being paid for by the 911 surcharge that is associated with phone bills.

Not only will the system allow inter-department communication, the signal will also be stronger thanks to new tower installation.

District Chief Kurt Fechter, who was responsible for the training at some Orion stations, said the system cost about $40 million and now accommodates 5500 users from police, fire, hospitals and private health organizations.

Towers are still being installed and now there are just over 40 towers devoted to the system.

"It gives us better coverage and they're still upgrading them when they find weak areas," Smith said. "They have several cell towers with antennas attached too. What's nice about the coverage and these radios, for example, is the people down at Station Three might have had trouble talking to dispatch before because of poor coverage but with this new system and these new towers I can send someone down to South Lyon and I could talk to them like they were in the room."

The old system won't be going away any time soon, however, as the pagers used by fire fighters continue to use the old frequencies. It also serves as a backup in the event the new system encounters defects.

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