“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Fire Chief of Wallace District Fire Department Brad Yochim says the announcement for a new, province-wide public safety communication system to replace the decades-old FleetNet system is welcome news.
“Currently we are using an outdated province-wide system that is no longer supported by the supplier and hasn’t been for many years. The new system replaces it.”
Premier Brian Pallister announced on Aug. 8, that the Manitoba government is awarding the tender for the replacement of the province’s public safety communications service to Bell Mobility.
Yochim is President of Manitoba Fire Chiefs Association. He says, “This is a change that all emergency services in Manitoba have been waiting for for many years. The current system is experiencing many outages daily and is no longer reliable.”
New equipment replacing the FleetNet system will be used by fire, ambulance and police services.
Yochim said, “This new system will give us better communication with our dispatch centre in Brandon and other agencies we work with like RCMP and EMS. It is a digital system which is the newest technology.”
FleetNet is an analogue system that experiences interruptions, he said.
“The radios associated with the new system have better encryption and GPS capability so we can locate a firefighter with this radio at any time.”
Rural remote service
Delivering the announcement in Thompson, Pallister said, “This new digital two-way mobile radio system will provide expanded coverage over a more secure network and improve the safety of our first responders.”
The new equipment will include radios with GPS, which can track the location of first responders to improve their safety. Advanced radio encryption will ensure police operations are secure and the equipment will be compatible with other systems outside of Manitoba to enable co-ordination during emergencies.
Five additional telecommunications towers will be added to expand coverage in northern Manitoba, and new mobile tower units will be available to provide additional coverage where needed on an emergency basis.
“We chose to go to tender and as a result, this competitive process resulted in a lower cost than we initially forecast,” said Pallister.
Total project costs are expected to be $380 million, Pallister said. The new system will be implemented over the next three years.
Cost to WDFD could be steep
For on-the-ground services, Yochim says, “It is yet to be seen how the service will roll out,” adding there may be a hefty price tag to bring WDFD equipment up to date.
“One disadvantage of the new system is cost to us for new hardware,” says Yochim. “We are being told the new radios are $3,500-$4,000 each.”
At this point the fire department has not been told if any government money will be available to purchase the radios. It may mean a huge hit to their budget says Yochim. In preparation, WDFD has budgeted for $50,000 over the next three years.
“If we install a radio in each truck and station, and have one for every officer, we are looking at about 20 radios. At $4,000 per radio that is $80,000.”
Yochim is hoping for a subsidy from the government to help with the switch over from the old, out-dated analog system to the new digital service.