FREDERICKSBURG – Good communication is critical in an emergency situation, and it’s a tool severely lacking for the South Central Fire District and other first responder and state agencies working in the area.
Not for long.
Funds recently allocated in the state operating budget will allow Wayne County to build a fifth Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) tower south of town. In total, $500,000 was allocated through the Department of Administrative Services for the development and construction of the tower.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done that went into this budget, and I am glad to see dollars coming back to Wayne County for safety services,” said State Rep. Scott Wiggam in a news release. “This funding is going to significantly help with the communications of our first responders that will ultimately benefit the people of our county and surrounding counties.”
Wayne County Commissioner Sue Smail thanked Wiggam for budgeting the money and State Sen. Kristina Roegner for keeping it in the Ohio Senate version.
“We finally get our (communications) tower,” Smail told The Daily Record.
A taller tower provides better coverage
Due to the geographic location of Fredericksburg, which is in a low-lying bowl, communication coverage is limited and non-existent in some areas.
"When the MARCS system was put into place, we noticed increased radio coverage in a few areas but not where we needed it the most, which was in the village of Fredericksburg," said Asst. Chief Shawn McKelvey of the South Central Fire District in an email.
With a new tower, McKelvey's department will be able to communicate any pertinent information about a particular situation with their personnel, the county dispatchers, and incoming mutual aid agencies.
"We stayed persistent throughout the process with many phone calls, text messages, emails, in-person meetings, and Zoom calls with our County Commissioners as well as the outpouring support from our Wayne County Fire Departments," McKelvey said.
The tower also would greatly enhance coverage for Southeast Local Schools, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Transportation, and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
Half of the $500,000 total was awarded last year as part of the 2021-2022 capital budget. MARCS agreed to a monopole instead of a full-size tower and to donate other necessary equipment on site. The estimated cost of the tower is $750,000.
The tower will be located south of town on Fryburg Road on village property. A water tank sits on the property. The county previously looked at the property located behind the South Central fire station, thinking it was owned by Verizon or AT&T, but it was recently sold to another company.
The village owns the property where the tower will be built behind the water tank.
Extra funds dedicated to the project should allow the county to build a taller tower to cover more territory. The original tower only would have covered the village of Fredericksburg and “a little of the surrounding area,” according to Smail.
Cellphone calls by emergency responders can cost time
The weak and sometimes non-existent radio signals can cause frustration and place an extra burden on first responders who already may be dealing with a stressful situation while working in the low-lying areas of Wayne and Holmes counties, according to McKelvey.
In some cases, South Central personnel have to use their cellphones to call Wayne County Dispatch to communicate updated information or other needs "taking extra time in a precarious situation."
"We feel we can now see light at the end of the tunnel along with having that feeling of accomplishment from an issue that hasn’t been solved in decades," McKelvey said.