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Island firefighters now tuned in

Word has come that one of the most dedicated firefighters in Shelter Island history has passed away.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | A new tower at the Center firehouse is expected to help with dispatches to firefighters .

The nightmare of faulty communications between dispatchers in Southold and firefighters on Shelter Island is one step closer to a resolution.

There’s still considerable work to be done, according to Shelter Island Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski. But garbled messages reaching some firefighters and no messages reaching others as recently as last month are much improved, he told his colleagues at Monday night’s Fire Commission meeting at the Center Firehouse.

As promised by Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley last month, new fiber optic cables have been put on a Greenport tower than sends messages to Shelter Island.

Mr. Lechmanski, who last month said he could get only garbled messages at his house, now is receiving them clearly.
However, that takes care of only a part of the problem. There’s still a need to replace the current 65-foot tower at the Center Firehouse with a 120-foot tower that can not only receive messages, but transmit them to firefighters around the Island.

Like the proposed Cobbetts Lane tower — Town Board approval is still pending — the new tower at the Center Firehouse will also require a green light from the board. Unlike the Cobbetts Lane tower that, if approved, would include transmitters for various cellphone companies, the Center tower would carry equipment only for the fire district to enable transmission of its calls to firefighters.

Neither of the proposed towers could provide sufficient communications for the entire Island, Mr. Lechmanski said.

How quickly the two towers will be approved by the town is uncertain, Mr. Lechmanski said. He’s hoping that given the critical need that exists, it moves along smoothly.

The more time it takes, the more it costs, Mr. Lechmanski said, since costs on construction don’t tend to decline with time.

The commissioners could have saved money by opting for an open air structure such as the tower at the town Recycling Center.

But given the placement of this one in the center of town, they voted for a more attractive straight white pole, resembling a flag pole.

While the commissioners are focused on the tower needs, they’re also looking ahead to the expensive process of converting from low band to high band service — something being imposed on firefighters throughout the country by the Federal Communications Commission.

But on the good news side, he learned that the district can use its existing low band service until its license expires January 1, 2032.

That means that the district can gradually make the conversion instead of having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for new radios and equipment in a single year or even over the course of a few years, Mr. Lechmanski said.