Phones interfere with fire dept. dispatch

By Reggie Ellis

For nearly three years the Exeter Fire Department has not been able to hear their dispatcher over the radio.

In this day of cell phones and mobile communications, it doesn't seem like this would be a problem, but by working around the dispatch, the response time for the Exeter Fire Department was on average about 1 minute slower than prior to April 2002.

"The dispatch comes first and gives the firefighter a chance to get himself and the equipment ready before going on a call," Exeter Fire Capt. Wes Grim said. "Things were happening in the county and we didn't have a clue until they paged us."

It was April 16, 2002 when The Foothills Sun-Gazette, then The Exeter Sun and Lindsay Gazette, installed a new phone system at its office, located at 120 N. E St. in Exeter across the alley from the fire station.

At that time, the Exeter Fire Department, contracted to the City of Exeter by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention as Tulare County Station 11, began experiencing some interference with its dispatch frequency. In the next year the problem got worse, prompting the county to look into the issue. The county determined that the source of the problem was coming from the newspaper's office, but could not be pinpointed inside the building. After a few troubleshooting ideas failed, the County Fire Department dropped the issue, but the problem persisted.

"Whatever it was it needed to be fixed," Grim said.

In February, the City of Exeter hired a consultant on behalf of the fire department to identify the source of the interference, which had become so strong that only static could be heard on the frequency, and resolve the issue. Dennis Sayre, president of Air Mobile Communications, quickly discovered that the newspaper's telephones were emitting a powerful frequency identical to the county fire dispatch frequency 154.01.

The phones were installed by Telco Enterprises. The Fresno-based company installs phone systems, voicemail, alarm systems and voice and data cabling, specializing in Comdial equipment. On March 1, Sayre contacted Steve Dyer, installation supervisor with Telco, to inform him that the phones were in violation of Federal Communications Commission regulations for interfering with an emergency frequency. Dyer tested the system and found that when the phones were shut off, the interference disappeared.

"I would have never believed it if I hadn't checked it out myself," Dyer said. "I've set these phones up in office buildings next door to fire stations in Fresno and never had a problem. In 20 years working with Comdial phones this is the first time I had even heard of this kind of problem."

Dyer got on the pone with Comdial immediately to find a quick solution to the problem. Comdial did not believe the claims at first, as their funds are manufactured in accordance with FCC regulations. However, after conducting some tests, the phones were emitting an identical frequency to that of the fire department. According to a Comdial technician, their phones emits a low-level radio frequency that synchronizes it with its motherboard through a tiny chip installed in each phone. A defect in this particular batch of phones was emitting a higher than normal frequency, combined with the phones close proximity to the fire station, created a signal strong enough to drowned out dispatch.

"If the phones would have been in a building a block farther away, it wouldn't have affected," Dyer said. "Everything had to line up just right, or, in this case, wrong, to make this happen."

On March 7, Telco brought in the new phones that emitted a different and much lower level frequency. The Exeter Fire Department has not had any problems receiving emergency dispatch since the phones were replaced.

"We are thankful that Telco worked quickly to coordinate with Comdial and get this issue resolved quickly," Sun-Gazette Publisher Reggie Ellis said. "We hear so much bad news about unethical companies it is nice to know that there are still quality companies who take care of the customers instead of taking advantage of them."

Start typing and press Enter to search