BY VOICE STAFF
Deployed in its full capacity during the fire at Pioneer Flower Farms in St. Catharines in mid-August, the Town’s fire department— with five vehicles, 12 men, and on scene for 16 hours — operated under calmer and safer circumstances with their new P25 700 MHz high-band radio system.
The digital operation, replacing an antiquated analog system that was shared among three other departments, was given the green light based on Pelham Town Council’s understanding and emphasis on safety for the 91 volunteers of the fire department, despite what at first glance seemed like a significant financial output.
“This was one of council’s first major decisions,” said Mayor Marvin Junkin. “Council had just been sworn in and we had a decision to make before the end of the calendar year. We all ran on getting the Town’s finances healthy, and here we were about to spend $300,000 right out of the gate. But it really was a no-brainer when you think about the enhanced safety and quality of communications this radio systems gives our guys.”
The new system is versatile, operating in multiple zones and on specific tactical channels, enhancing coverage to 100 percent. This in comparison to the previous analog system operating on a low frequency, routinely dropping calls, and offering sporadic service.
The mid-August fire was the first major operation in which the new system was truly tested, after being installed in March. Pelham Fire Chief Bob Lymburner says its success cannot be overstated.
“That’s exactly why we switched,” he said. “When we attended the St. Catharines fire, we had five pieces of apparatus on scene and we were operating on a specific tactical channel. We could talk to each other without any interruptions.”
With 50 portable units, 15 mobile units, and three base units, the P25 system—at a cost of $305,000 for purchase, installation, and removal of the old system—comes with a 15-year support program.
“To put it into context, think of it this way: give 100 firefighters a cell phone with the same number and have them try to talk to one another. That was the old system.”
Lymburner says that his firefighters, made up of volunteers, operate with a greater sense of calm and increased feeling of safety with the new system.
“We have something we can trust. The new council came in and made a decision as one of the first things they had to decide. They could have deferred it and we could have lost it but they didn’t and I thank them for that.”