State emergency officials are considering about a dozen potential sites for a new tower to provide better mobile and portable radio coverage for Lineboro's fire and ambulance crews.
The tower, which will need to be about 340 to 400 feet tall, will help eliminate a gap in emergency communications and extend mobile radio coverage as far as York, Pa., Howard S. "Buddy" Redman, county director of public safety, told the Carroll County commissioners during a recent update.
Lineboro volunteers frequently provide mutual aid service in York County, and several of the possible sites for the tower are in Pennsylvania.
"That's important because paramedics transporting patients to the hospital in York still must consult with Maryland doctors," Redman said.
"That's protocol for state paramedics," according to the regulations set up by the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services System (MIEMSS), he said.
In areas much closer to Lineboro, a stronger signal is needed for hand-held radios to work properly when, for example, a firefighter is inside a building, Redman said.
Once MIEMSS officials decide which site best fulfills the need and study other factors, such as accessibility for construction crews, land cost and public reaction, they will narrow the list of locations, Redman said.
The Lineboro radio coverage area, which includes many "dead" spots, runs from near Manchester north toward West Manheim, Pa., and northeast from there to York, Redman said.
The dead areas, he said, include Glen Rock, Pa., to the south and into northwestern Baltimore County near Prettyboy Reservoir. From there, the coverage area parallels the Carroll-Baltimore county line south toward Hampstead.
State troopers working in the same area will benefit from a new tower, too, said Bobby Sterner, Lineboro's first assistant fire chief.
"They run into the same dead areas as we do," he said, recalling a November 1997 night at a house fire northeast of Manchester in a valley on Schalk's Road No. 1, when fire and police officials could not communicate by radio.
"We were the first on the fire scene and couldn't talk to any arriving unit or to headquarters," he said. "We were all alone and had to wait until other units arrived to give instructions face-to-face, using the portable radios like walkie-talkies. Fortunately, no one was injured."
Lineboro, which is a half-mile from the Pennsylvania border and about four miles northeast of Manchester, averaged 252 fire calls and 329 ambulance calls annually from 1997 through 1999.
Of those fire calls, about 45 percent were in Pennsylvania or Baltimore County, Sterner said. The percentage of out-of-county ambulance calls was not immediately available.
The cost for the tower project is estimated at $1 million, and $750,000 in state funding has been approved, he said. The balance, to be paid by the state, should be approved by April, he noted.
Redman said it will take until April to complete the design process and then tackle the toughest hurdle, securing the approval and permits from the Federal Communications Commission.
Whenever Carroll officials have discussed the tower project with the FCC and mentioned Pennsylvania's concerns about signal interference from overlapping frequencies, "the FCC has consistently said, `Work it out,'" Redman said.
Radio waves travel in a straight line, leaving sporadic communication gaps in the hilly terrain surrounding Lineboro. Redman said he was confident communications engineers would be able to come up with the best placement for the tower so that interference with Pennsylvania emergency radio frequencies is minimal.
"Since Lineboro makes a lot of its calls into Pennsylvania, I think it can be worked out to satisfy Pennsylvania and the FCC," Redman said.