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New radios increase safety, communication

High bandwidth radios allow WPVFD peace of mind

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

5:00 AM EDT, September 27, 2013

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WEST POINT – For the West Point Volunteer Fire Department, a small thing can make a big difference.

The department just received over 300 portable and stationary radios that directly communicate with emergency crews in the surrounding counties, including King William and West Point. The $3 million equipment was turned on Sept. 12 and since then, the department has embraced the changes.

"The new radios are hands-over-fist better than the ones we had before," said WPVFD Assistant Chief Andrew Smith.

According to Smith, the West Point and King William County fire departments often work in tandem, but previously were unable to communicate with one another.

"It was fragmented for years because King William County had high bandwidth and we had low bandwidth, meaning we would have to swap radios in person to communicate," Smith said. "People would be responding to incidents carrying two or three radios."

The WPVFD's low bandwidth radios also only had one channel with grainy reception, added King William Management Coordinator and Project Manager Travis Lindsey.

"We were using 1960s and 70s technology," he said.

The WPVFD has not only noticed the quality of the radios, but also the safety and peace of mind they offer.

"If there is a house fire, the firefighter can now have a radio on his person, and he can communicate with the people outside the house who might see a dangerous situation. Or, if the firefighter finds himself in a dangerous situation, he can tell someone," said Smith.

The new radio system, which was locally funded as a Capital Improvement Project, was a part of an emergency equipment replacement initiative by King William County. According to Lindsey, all systems in King William, including West Point, are 800 megahertz.

The radio system was put to the test earlier this month when the WPVFD responded with several other agencies to a standoff in King William County.

"It worked perfectly. We were able to communicate with everyone involved," said Smith.

"As simple as it is to say, we are thrilled that the radios work."

Martin can be reached at 804-885-0040.