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Firefighters to get new radio system

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Nash County fire departments will soon be switching to the Viper radio system after a decision reached this week by the Board of Commissioners.

Chairman Robbie Davis, Vice Chairman Wayne Outlaw and Commissioner Dan Cone spent months researching and evaluating the radios. All 16 fire departments conducted radio tests last month.

“Initially, we were leaning to a recommendation for digital,” Outlaw said. “But after further discussion, which was based on feedback we were getting from some of the department chiefs, we decided to extend our evaluation to get additional input.”

Designed to improve interoperability issues after emergency responses during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Viper enables reliable communication among all public safety agencies in the state during emergencies. The system has become popular among small, rural counties as it allows communication without the yearly maintenance costs of owning a system.

Commissioners have grappled for months whether to use the state-owned Viper system or invest in an independent digital radio system owned and operated by the county. Radios used to access Viper can vary in price from $1,500 to $4,000, so commissioners are having to balance expense with efficient public safety response.

With capability for communications from Murphy to Manteo, Viper is the radio of choice for the N.C. Highway Patrol, Nash County Sheriff's Office, the city of Rocky Mount and Edgecombe County. Wilson County also is considering switching to the system. Thirty-nine of the state's 100 counties use the Viper system.

Outlaw said the board consulted with Nash County Emergency Services Director Brian Brantley, Deputy Director Scott Rogers, County Manager Zee Lamb, other county staff and members of the Sheriff's Office. The commissioners also received input from all the county's fire chiefs during the extended evaluation.

Brantley told the Telegram he's happy with the commissioners' decision to move forward with the Viper system.

Commissioners received presentations on both systems during November's workshop meeting. Outlaw, Davis, Cone, Brantley and Rogers then met with the chiefs to discuss both systems and hear any concerns.

“From this discussion and based on the facts provided in the previous presentations, a majority of the chiefs supported the Viper system,” Outlaw said. “But there were a few that still had concerns with operational capability of the system and cost. To address the operational capability concerns, each department completed testing on Nov. 16, with some retests on Nov. 21. With a few exceptions in some areas that we feel can be addressed with additional infrastructure, test results were good. Regarding cost, which is very important, providing our fire personnel with a system that provides the highest level of safety is of more concern to us than the additional cost.”

A large majority of the chiefs support the Viper system thanks to successful testing and a promise from commissioners to help with funding.

The board voted to approve the Viper system and turned the matter over to staff to determine funding and other implementation recommendations. The board expects details to be hammered out by its January meeting.

The board gave staff six points to consider: Initial funding; replacement funding; number of radios needed by each department; contracts; additional costs like infrastructure to improve signal transmission where needed; and training.

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