In a crisis, speeding up communications by just a few seconds can make all the difference in the world.
That’s the message Wellington’s emergency forces will strive to convey this fall when they reapply for a digital radio grant.
The state-funded proposal would award approximately $230,000 — $90,000 for both the police and fire department, with $50,000 going to the Southern Lorain County Ambulance District. The three entities originally applied for the money in the spring but were denied.
“We can’t communicate directly with the sheriff’s department and that’s a big problem,” said Wellington police chief Tim Barfield. “They use population numbers and other political factors to hand out these grants and that can be a challenge to overcome in southern Lorain County.”
Barfield and fire chief Mike Wetherbee pointed to last December’s stabbing and melee at the Mosey Inn as a prime example of impeded communication.
“In our stabbing incident last December, the suspect left the scene,” said Wetherbee. “Our village police called the sheriffs in to assist and were unable to talk to them. You can have a Wellington police car and a sheriff car 100 feet apart and they can’t talk. That creates redundancy and delays. It can be the difference between a suspect getting caught or someone getting hurt.”
Wetherbee said both the Rocherster and Camden fire departments could be brought in as part of the group applying for the grant this time around.
“We weren’t turned down. We just weren’t selected since they had so many people asking for funding,” he said. “I think we have a better game plan this time. These types of grants are meant to be spread around over multiple agencies in a collaborative effort. Pulling in a couple more agencies who could benefit from this will improve our chances for approval.”
The money would allow the fire department to replace all of its base station and mobile radios as well as a portion of the smaller portable radios, said Wetherbee.
He also highlighted how the Lorain County Fair can complicate the issue even more.
“The fairgrounds are actually in Wellington Township, not the village,” he said. “That puts it under the sheriff’s jurisdiction. The county put the sheriff’s office on a digital platform while many fire and police departments remain on analog. You have to tell your dispatcher to relay messages for you. The same problems exist with the state patrol. We’re also not able to talk directly with them right now.”
Wetherbee pointed out that he would like to see more regular patrols from the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office in southern Lorain County.
“Many times we see response times of over 20 minutes from the sheriff because they tend to stay in the northern end of the county,” he said. “The only thing that’s going to cut the response time down is putting more deputies out here in the southern end of the county. It’s all financially driven and we know they can only have so many people in so many places. The communications aspect will improve the efficiency once they’re out here on scene.”
SLCAD director Dave Knapp has also felt the sting of the antiquated radio infrastructure.
He spoke of the delay in getting an “all clear” from a sheriff’s deputy on calls where it is required before his team can move in to help.
“We’re flying blind until we find out,” he said. “We’re losing vital minutes waiting for that all-clear signal when maybe it’s been clear for some time. A matter of seconds or minutes can be a huge difference. If something big were to happen at the fair, communication between us, the state patrol, and the sheriff would be a challenge.”
Knapp said SLCAD has had talks to possibly contribute its own money to the grant.
No date has been set to reapply but both Knapp and Wetherbee said they expect to do so in the fall.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
File photos Wellington police chief Tim Barfield says a lack of digital radio communication with sheriff’s deputies at last December’s stabbing and melee at the Mosey Inn hampered responders’ efficiency.