Radio issues leaving first responders stranded in county’s western end

For emergency responders, the portable radios they carry as part of their essential gear is literally a lifeline — not only for themselves, but members of the public. 

So, what if they find themselves in a life and death struggle and nobody can hear their calls? 

Some first responders in Monongalia County — particularly those serving the county’s western end — say that’s the reality they face every day. 

Leadership with the county’s volunteer fire departments, along with representatives from Mon EMS and the West Virginia State Police, expressed their frustrations Thursday during a meeting held at the MECCA 911 facility.  

Jeff Perry, chief of mission support with West Virginia Emergency Management was in attendance, as was MECCA 911 leadership. 

“We can’t call for help. Like the trooper was saying, if he’s out pursuing a suspect, he can’t stop at his car and talk on the radio. It’s the portable radio he has to rely on,” Monongalia County Volunteer Firefighters Association President Mickey Rhinehart said. 

Perry said he believes some of the problems could be based on the system, now some 20 years old, being built on a mobile platform. 

“It’s not a portable system,” he said.  

Rhinehart said that revelation was “startling.”  

“Then why was it put in place. We can’t take a truck inside a structure fire to talk on it,” he said, later adding “This is not acceptable. That’s our world, portables — once we’re on scene and out of that truck.” 

Perry suggested responders should keep personnel in their vehicles to man the radio. 

Unrealistic, the volunteer firefighters said, explaining they don’t have the manpower to leave someone in a truck. 

Further, they said they can’t even talk to one another using portable radios while on the same scene. 

Blacksville Chief Kevin Wilson said all these issues began to surface following the replacement of the Catherines Knob tower, near Fairview, due to structural concerns. 

The new tower has been in service at the same location nearly three years.  

“Before they blew it down, that tower worked perfect. Now we’ve got a brand new tower and we can’t hit it,” Wilson said, explaining he’s been at accidents within sight of the tower and had no portable communication. 

Perry took a lot of notes and promised to pass the information along, but said he couldn’t provide many answers until technicians looked into the matter. 

He also said he would enquire about a portable communications tower that could be placed at the old Pedlar Run tower site as temporary test for a potential tower site. 

If the test is successful, the question then becomes who pays for the tower. 

“This is a live, growing system. We’re trying to update it and keep it as modern as we possibly can,” Perry said.