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Derry Township firefighters explore radio system replacement

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Derry Township's fire departments are seeking alternatives for their backup emergency radio system that could be defunct within a year.

Starting in 2015, the departments no longer will be able to repair the 33.70 MHz radio system used as a backup to Westmoreland County's 800 MHz public safety radio system, Bradenville fire Chief Mark Piantine said.

Township Supervisor David Slifka said the municipality is in the very early stages of determining a course of action regarding the radio system. Supervisors will need to meet with representatives from the fire departments to estimate the number of radio units required, he said.

“First, we have to meet. Then we've got to talk it over and see if there's a chance that we can get some grants or something for this,” Slifka said. “That's my opinion, I think you try to get grants to supplement the cost. I know we can pay for some of it, but that's a lot of money at one clip.”

Other neighboring municipalities may be interested in joining forces to purchase complementary radio systems when Derry Township moves forward with the project, Piantine said.

“If you build the right system, people will use it,” Piantine said. “We have Derry Borough, who always works with us. New Alexandria Borough always works with us. They're going to be in the same predicament. ... If they want to use the system, I'm quite sure that our township will let them use the system.”

The departments will need a backup in place in case the county radio system is overwhelmed by calls or suffers equipment failures. Emergency responders also use the 33.70 MHz system as an alternative to the 800 MHz frequency for communicating on a more local scale, Piantine said.

“We need it,” he said. “Last time we had all that flooding (over the summer), we couldn't get through. If we had a working fire, we couldn't call and request additional backup.

“The last time (the 33.70 MHz system) was down, last year, it was down for almost three months until they found parts,” Piantine added. “The last time it was down, it was down for a great while.”

The transition to a new backup radio system won't be cheap, he said. To equip the township's fire departments would require a base unit at each fire station, a mobile radio unit in every truck and handheld radios for each officer.

“It's not going to be a couple hundred bucks” for each radio, Piantine said. “You're talking thousands.”

According to the county Department of Public Safety's website, radio units for the high-band system were estimated to cost between $1,000 and $3,500 each before discounts.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or