Receiving clear fire calls dispatched by Southold remains a problem on Shelter Island.
But help is on the way, according to Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.
The problem stems from “a repeater” on the Suffolk County Water Authority tower in Greenport, a device that is supposed to relay calls to Island firefighters, but often doesn’t work.
Depending on the location of firefighters when a call comes in, they may get a clear readout about the nature and location of a fire call; receive a limited and garbled message; or hear nothing at all.
The Reporter maintains a scanner, but frequently hears details only of North Fork calls, not Shelter Island calls. Yet just across the street, Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, who maintains a scanner at his Jaspa Road garage, said he heard a call clearly on Friday afternoon.
Shelter Island Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski, who has been the point person trying to improve radio communications on the Island, worries that there could be a call no firefighter receives that results in serious injury or death.
The antiquated equipment on the tower in Greenport is expected to be replaced within the next two weeks, Chief Flatley said.
That Greenport tower is at the crux of a lot of communications problems, including the ability of his own police to communicate with one another when they’re out in East Marion or Orient, the chief said.
“I’m more anxious than anybody to get hands on” in replacing the old repeaters and antennae that are causing some of the problems, he added. Changes to the equipment on the Greenport tower is a priority, the chief said, estimating the cost at more than $10,000.
The Island has upgraded equipment and is exploring putting in a higher tower at the Center firehouse. It also will be moving from low band to high band equipment, but in the meantime, the changes at the Greenport tower should make a major difference in the clarity of calls between Southold that dispatches for the Shelter Island Fire Department, Chief Flatley said.
Both the Island’s Police Department and Emergency Medical Services Service have upgraded equipment that works effectively for their members, said Detective Sergeant Jack Thilberg, who is the director of the Island’s Emergency Medical Services.
At the same time, while that equipment is working effectively, there are upgrades planned, he said.