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Radio Coverage Improves in Miss.: First Responders Use handhelds to Communicate

HARLESTON, Miss. — Imagine this scene: A downed tree separates the volunteers working frantically to contain a blazing woods fire in the northeast corner of Jackson County. Radios don t work. What do they do?

Because of improvements in radio transmission sites throughout the county, first responders now can use their handheld radios to communicate with each other.

This wasn t always the case.

We couldn t talk north of the station, said Chief Corky Tigner with the East Central Volunteer Fire Department in Hurley. Now, we can talk every place in our area, and it (the signal) goes up into George County.

Communication is vital for firefighters, he said. It s my life on the line, and if my radio doesn t work, I m in trouble, he said.

The biggest improvement in the $1.6 million project was to lease space on a tower in Big Point.

George Sholl, director of the Jackson County Emergency Communications District, said coverage was available over the entire county, but it wasn t as strong in the northeast and northwest unincorporated areas as they d like it to be.

The mobiles worked well, but the handhelds were lacking, he said, explaining fire personnel rely heavily on the handheld radios. It wasn t as good as it needed to be. We had some dark spots.

Sholl said the JCECD s Board of Commissioners recognized the need for a tower in the Hurley area, but finding the right location proved to be a long process. At the board s urging, the county looked at locations in Hurley and Big Point to build a tower before settling for rental space on a 533-foot tower owned by American Family Radio. It is located southeast of Big Point on Lily Orchard Road.

In exchange for the use of the JCECD s mandatory generator at the site, the county was allowed to rent space on the tower for $500 a month.

The JCECD owns towers in Pascagoula behind the Emergency Operations Center and at the intersection of Mississippi 57 and U.S. 90. It also rents space on a tower in Vancleave owned by Southern Co.

Sholl said a large portion of the cost at the Big Point tower was installing the equipment for the radio system. The equipment at the other towers was tweaked as well, he said.

The cost to build a self-standing tower could have added at least $500,000 to the bill, he said.

The county also has an option to erect a tower at the Larue Community Center in the northwest corner, but Sholl said the state plans to build a statewide radio system and has denied their application for a tower there until they decide whether they ll be building there instead.

We re still holding on but don t foresee building that in the near future, he said.