Lack of transfer tower concerns fire chief

Published 11:03 am Thursday, February 20, 2014

DECATUR TOWNSHIP — The absence of a transfer tower in Decatur Township has its fire chief concerned about citizens’ safety.

Chief Gene Cox said his department is equipped with an emergency re-pager that transmits 911 calls second hand.

“The re-pager creates a slight problem,” Cox said. “The time between the 911 signals and when the dispatcher starts talking is interrupted by the signal on our machine because the delay causes them to overlap. If we didn’t have the re-pager we wouldn’t get the signals at all.”

Email newsletter signup

A transfer tower was recently moved from Deans State Forest to Cannons Creek, Cox said, and the re-location of that tower left the area served by the Decatur Township Volunteer Fire Department without proper coverage.

“Then we get told to turn the re-pager off because it’s not licensed by the (Federal Communications Commission),” Cox said. “If there is a fire or emergency at night we might not respond because we will never receive the call.”

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said the re-pager at Decatur Township Fire Department had to be turned off because it was interfering with communication among other fire departments.

“Other fire departments complained because the re-pager sent out signals repeatedly until it got shut off,” Lawless said. “Other fire departments couldn’t communicate because it kept going off. It needs to only operate overnight.”

Several meetings have been held in regard to the issue, Lawless said, but ultimately the re-pager was sacrificed to benefit the entire county.

“We are trying to come up with feasible solutions,” Lawless said. “I understand Chief Cox’s frustration and concern. It’s what we had to do because other firefighters were unable to use their radios.”

Cox said he feels the area served by Decatur Township Volunteer Fire Department is viewed as “less important” than the rest of the county.

“I don’t want to see somebody get burned up or lose property because it takes firefighters 25 or 30 minutes to arrive on scene,” he said. “We have to know about the emergency before we can go save lives.”

The Decatur Township Volunteer Fire Department covers more than 36 square miles and there are roughly 1,000 residents in its coverage area and fire personnel are scattered throughout the township.

“If one of our volunteers shows up on scene alone it is incredibly dangerous,” Cox said. “Something needs to be done. We can’t leave these people out to dry.”

Lawless said he will continue working diligently with Lawrence County 911 Director Lonnie Best to arrive at a solution as soon as possible.