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Earle Fire Department upgrading radio system


City Council authorizes purchase of communication equipment

Earle Fire Department will be getting some upgrades to its radio system in order to allow them to get better reception and to be able to set the tornado siren off by radio.

Fire Chief Jason Peninger told the City Council that lightning struck their antenna and damaged their ability to turn the siren on and off remotely.

“This last big storm we had here recently, lightning struck the tornado siren and set it off,” Peninger said.

“It rang for a long time. We could not get it to shut off through the radio system.”

Peninger said in addition to not being able to activate the siren remotely by radio, the lightning strike also damaged the manual control board at the fire station for the siren.

“By the time we could manually shut it down, it messed up the control board,” Peninger said.

“So now that is off being repaired.”

Peninger handed the Council a quote for $2,463 to purchase a new amplifier for the department’s repeater system that will boost the power from 50 watts to 100 watts, and a system upgrade to their receiver system that will allow them to be able to set the tornado siren off by radio.

“This is what it will cost to upgrade the repeater to 100 watts and set it up to where we can work the siren again by radio,” Peninger said. “Right now, the way the tornado siren is there is no way I can set it off with our radio system to warn the citizens. This will allow us to do that.”

Peninger said the department is having major radio communications problems in general. The radio signal is currently too weak to set off all of their radios.

While their radios do function, Peninger said reception is not the best.

“I live six miles north. It is hit or miss for my radio to work at the house,” Peninger said. “There are times I have had somebody call me early in the morning and say we have a call in Earle and I had no clue because the radio didn’t go off. It’s getting to where two or three people show up because people’s radios aren’t going off and we have to call people by phone. And that takes time.

It’s a bad problem.” Peninger said he is hoping that these upgrade will fix the problem with reception. Otherwise, they may have to pay for a new antenna to go on top of the water tower. The fire department has a 65 foot antenna. Ideally, that antenna should be 100 feet tall, Peninger said.

“It needs to be taller,” Peninger said. “I have a company that is going to come out and test our antenna because the lightning strike blew fuses in our radios at the station. They want to make sure it didn’t mess up the duplex system that runs our radio communications. They are going to test it to make sure it didn’t burn something up.

So hopefully it is all good.

This is our best resort to fix it.”

The Fire Department will pay for the upgrades using ACT 833 money. ACT 833 funds come from one half of a one percent fee charged on all fire insurance premiums that are given back to the state to provide for firefighting needs to fire departments in Arkansas on a more equitable basis. Funds in each county are divided by population.

Earle has $29,753 available in ACT 833 funds.

Peninger said the cost to replace the equipment also includes a $200 fee to the FCC to boost the power on the tower.

“That is to update our license with the FCC so that we can run 100 watts versus what we have now,” Peninger said. “The FCC has to approve this. They may come back and say no, you can’t do that in your area because it is going to interfere with other frequencies. Or, they can come back and say yes and approve it.”

Mayor Sherman Smith said the city might be able to recoup some of the cost from insurance.

“We know what caused it,” Smith said. “Maybe it is something we can get insurance to pay for.”

“Very possible,” Peninger added.

Councilwoman Jimmie Barham agreed the upgrades were needed.

“We have to have this for safety,” Barham said.

Smith said from what he has been told, the upgrades should take care of the problem.

“Hopefully this will be the fix,” Smith said. “But either way this will help.”

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