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Recording illustrates problems in emergency communications

T-R FILE PHOTO Marshall County Board of Supervisors heard a recording of a broken emergency call for aid from the Clemons Fire Department on Sept. 18. The dispatch said there were radio problems. The recording was used to illustrate the failing emergency communications system in Marshall County.

Rhonda Braudis, the Marshall County Communications Commission director, played a Sept. 18 recording of emergency calls for the Marshall County Board of Supervisors during the Tuesday meeting.

In the recording, the Clemons Fire Department requested assistance from the State Center Fire Department. There was a grass fire north of St. Anthony. The recording had some spots when the person talking cuts in and out. Someone mentions there is no reception in the area they are calling from. There is also a section in which the person speaking said he could not hear what was being said.

The call dispatcher said, “It sounds like they don’t have reception from the radios in the bottom and you can disregard.”

The dispatcher then asked if Clemons disregarded any further traffic. She received no response.

“All traffic, I’m only getting clicks from Clemons. Evidently, they’re having radio issues,” the dispatcher said.

Braudis said she had two reasons for playing the recording for the Supervisors.

“Obviously this is a little bit of a dark spot,” she said. “That’s not the only dark spot that we obviously have in the county area, but as you can see it started off with a decent recording.”

Braudis said recordings are tricky as they tend to be clearer than the actual call. She said it is a daily occurrence and there is a difference between listening to the recordings and listening to the calls on a headset in real time. Braudis also said there was nothing else going on that day — such as strong winds or background equipment — to interfere with the call.

“It is still continuing to go downhill,” she said.

Braudis said those types of calls are becoming more of the norm, rather than irregular.

According to State Center Fire Chief Brad Pfantz who responded to the call, the recording is bad, but what he actually heard was much worse.

When considering problems to the county-wide communications system caused by the Aug. 10 derecho, Braudis said those issues are not part of the problems displayed in the recordings.

“That is not causing the degradation of the system,” she said. “I wanted to make that clear to everyone else that it’s not just because of the storm.”

Once the derecho damage is fixed, the problems will continue.

Supervisor Steve Salasek asked if a new system would fix that area of the county. Braudis said it would, because of the placement of the system towers, which is key. She said difficulties with calls in that part of Marshall County are consistent.

Supervisor Dave Thompson said he has heard complaints about the dead spot in the Clemons and St. Anthony area for 14 years. Braudis said there are dead spots, but they do not contribute to the degradation of the radio system.

Pfantz approached the Supervisors in December regarding the rapidly failing emergency communication system and problems fire departments are having with it across Marshall County. He proposed the county sign a $3 million contract with RACOM — Marshalltown’s communications contractor which specializes in emergency response systems. The proposal asks for the county to set up the proper infrastructure for a reliable communication system and for the individual fire departments to buy the necessary radios and pagers.

The estimated time frame from when the contract is signed to the system being operational is 12 to 18 months.

“From a financial perspective, we are getting close to having some options,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be easier when we get further into our fiscal year. We’ve got some wiggle room once we get a couple more months down the road.”

Thompson said the Supervisors are not ready to say anything yet, as they do not want to give anyone false hope.

“But all indications are, I think we may have a solution,” he said. “I’m asking everyone for a little more patience. Give us a couple more months to get this nailed down and we’ll go from there.”

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Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611

or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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