Nearly nine years ago, Carroll County installed a highly touted, advanced radio emergency communications system. But the Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department was still plagued by dead spots where communication was impossible.
Now, a new 340-foot communications tower is up and running outside of Lineboro.
It was officially placed in service at 3:15 p.m. March 31, said Randy Waesche Jr., the county's Emergency Communications Center coordinator. The county will hold a ribbon cutting for the tower at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
"I'm ecstatic. It's been long, long, long overdue," said Lineboro Volunteer Fire Department Chief Shawn Utz. "The radio communication works great. It works like the system should have worked many years ago.
"I've been out and combed the area to make sure all our known dead spots work, and it was crystal clear," Utz said. "My hat's off to Randy Waesche. He's the reason this is done, him and the commissioners for getting this through."
Waesche also conducted some unofficial tests, traveling around the area with a portable 800-megahertz radio to check the dead spots. He said he got "beautiful coverage."
Motorola, which installed the communications equipment, will still have to perform the final test of the area once foliage is out on the trees, which can affect communications, Waesche said.
"Motorola has a test team, and they lay out hundreds of grids, on and off the road, to test," Waesche said. "You have to have 95 percent coverage 95 percent of the time. That's the accepted standard."
Because of the hilly terrain and low-lying pockets in the area, Lineboro firefighters and emergency services personnel used to find themselves unable to communicate with 911 dispatchers or each other.
"It became very frustrating when we'd go out on a call and wouldn't have communications," said Lineboro President Jack Stone. "For example, we had a fire in Alesia a few years ago. Fire was coming out the second floor windows when we arrived.
"I sent my men in and discovered I had no communication with them. I tried to call for a second alarm and couldn't. I finally had to go to a walkie-talkie and send a man up on top of a hill so they could talk to the regular communications."
Utz said that when he can't talk to the crews inside a house fire, "that's bad for me. The job we do is dangerous enough. Why make it more dangerous?"
The fire company held onto its old low-band system to use as a backup, Utz said, but that was a failing system that did not always work.
Officials hope the communication problem has been solved with this eighth 800-megahertz system tower.
During the last week of March, work on the microwave system, part of a statewide program, on the lighted steel tower was finalized. On March 31, each individual channel was brought up and timed for clear communication until all of them were online, Waesche said.
The fenced-in tower includes a building for the electronic components, various transmitters, antennae and a dish.
Waesche estimated the final cost of the project at about $1.5 million, including cost of the land, access roads, storm-water management, equipment and fencing. The county had originally budgeted $750,000 for the tower.
The state contributed about $600,000 for the building, microwave equipment, generator, fuel tank and electricity to the site.
The tower serves police and various county agencies and the towns, as well.
The road to completing the Lineboro communications tower has been a long and frustrating one for the county's Public Safety Office, three boards of commissioners and emergency responders.
Numerous sites had to be inspected and studied until a location was selected, the county had to buy the land, and problems cropped up between Maryland and Pennsylvania over radio frequencies, which then had to be licensed through the Federal Communications Commission.
"What it's going to do for us is what it's done for the rest of the county," said Utz. "We've been kind of restrained, so now we're up to speed communication-wise with the rest of the county."