WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - Columbus County commissioners are considering a $400,000 fix to a relatively new emergency radio system that hasn't delivered as promised.
One of the main complaints from fire and rescue chiefs is that the system has too many dead spots – areas in the large, rural county where emergency crews can't use radios to communicate with each other or with dispatchers.
"Our lifeline is the 911 center," said Tony Miller, president of the Columbus County Fire and Rescue Association. "They're telling us where to go. They're giving us an address. [If] we need anything else, we're talking back to the 911 center."
The county spent $1.5 million on the new digital radio system, which became operational in 2012. The county paid $277,000, and the rest of the funds came from a 911 surcharge, according to Edwin Russ, chair of the Columbus County Board of Commissioners.
A third-party Kenwood dealer installed the system, which was endorsed by a committee of representatives from county fire departments, rescue squads and law enforcement agencies. Russ said he wishes the county had sought more outside help.
"We should have hired a consultant, but we are a very conservative board," Russ said. "We don't like to spend unnecessary money. But at this stage, what's 30 or 50 thousand dollars?"
Ken Fisher, a Kenwood senior systems engineer, answered questions from commissioners Monday night about his company's proposal to improve the radio system by replacing and adjusting antennas and other equipment at a cost of nearly $387,000.
Wilmington-based Communications Specialists would receive an additional $35,000 to reprogram more than 1,000 mobile and portable radios in the county.
Emergency Services Director Kay Worley was unable to say Thursday how long it would take the companies to make the repairs.
Russ expects commissioners will vote on the proposal at their next meeting April 5.
"For the fire and rescue personnel, I just hope they'll bear with us a little bit longer, and I just hope and pray nobody gets hurt till this is done," he said.
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