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Image: Facebook/Welsford Volunteer Fire Department

Fire chief calls for improved radio coverage

By Brad Perry Aug 3, 2023 | 6:32 AM

A New Brunswick fire chief wants to see increased investments to improve radio coverage.

Most emergency response agencies in the province are now on the trunked mobile radio network.

The digital system allows first responders to communicate with one another during emergencies.

It replaced a 30-year-old system which officials said lacked coverage in some regions of the province.

But for the Welsford Volunteer Fire Department, north of Saint John, coverage continues to be a problem with the new system.

“Our radio coverage is not great here in our area,” Chief David MacCready said in an interview this week. “We don’t even have radio coverage inside our fire station in Welsford.”

“We suffer from a lot of dead spots in the Welsford area, which can be attributed to the geographic landscape that we have out here.”

MacCready estimated the system does not work for his department about 50 per cent of the time.

When that happens, firefighters turn to the older VHF radios so they can still communicate with one another.

But MacCready said they are on “borrowed time” because the older-style repeater those radios operate off of was installed in the 1970s.

“My fear, at this point, is we go into a building fighting a fire that we don’t have radio coverage at,” he said.

Last week, the province announced that fire departments can receive additional trunked mobile radios as part of a $1.5-million regional fire dispatch project.

The increase of two radios per fire department is in addition to seven previously provided by the province.

MacCready said while they are grateful to receive more resources, he feels more infrastructure money for additional radio towers would be more appropriate.

The trunked mobile radio network uses a combination of government and new and existing Bell Mobility towers across the province.

For its part, officials with the province acknowledged there is limited coverage in some regions of New Brunswick.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said this is a challenge with many communications systems.

“The department understands the concerns of some users in terms of coverage and is always looking at ways to improve coverage gaps,” Kelly Cormier, communications director for the department, said in an emailed statement.

Cormier said 18 additional radio towers have been added since 2016. There are currently 107 towers located across New Brunswick.

Department officials did not answer questions about whether there are plans to expand the number of tower sites in the Welsford area or about the amount of coverage the new network provides compared to the old system.

The system uses a combination of government and new and existing Bell Mobility towers across the province.


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