By HOWARD BALABAN firstname.lastname@example.org
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Orleans County officials and emergency responders could not stop smiling Wednesday as they gathered at the Emergency Management Office for an official radio tower groundbreaking ceremony.
For the better part of the past decade, Orleans County has heard the pleas of emergency personnel to upgrade the existing radio system. The get-together Wednesday afternoon was a symbolic one, as it marked the official start of the county's public safety radio system expansion.
Two more sites — one in Clarendon and one in Medina — are also planned.
"This is an example of the county and local municipalities working together for the good of all the citizens of the county," said Paul Wagner, Emergency Management Director. He said the new system will bring a huge benefit to the area.
"These new radio towers will provided expanded coverage and bring Orleans County into the 21st Century with a digital radio system," Wagner noted.
Legislature Chairman Dave Callard labeled the day as "exciting" because the whole process was finally being put in motion.
"This is a project that was worked on through four chairmen over 10 years," he said. "This new system is one that will last a while."
Lynne Johnson is one of the legislators who worked on the project and spoke briefly, too. She told the small crowd that their concerns over the years had been heard loud and clear, and were being addressed with what she called a "top of the line" system.
State Sen. George Maziarz praised Orleans County for "buying local" and using Harris Corporation, a Monroe County-based firm, to install the towers.
Albion Fire Chief Rocky Sidari called the old county radio system a "huge safety concern" that needed to be upgraded just to be modernized.
"The old system was often hit or miss," Sidari explained. "Sometimes it would work fine and other times you couldn't communicate with someone 50 feet away."
As a firefighter, specifically, Sidari said it was imperative to upgrade the system because a person inside a burning building needs to be able to communicate with someone outside and not worry whether their radio call will go through.
"This new system is going to bring peace of mind and we're all excited for it," Sidari said. He added that the improved radio technology is a "big relief" that will eliminate a large element of worry.
Part of the Albion radio tower has already been built. The other two towers will break ground soon, and, according to Callard, the entire system is tentatively scheduled to be up and running by the summer.
Meanwhile, Wagner was perhaps the happiest person on hand Wednesday. He said ever since the FCC mandated the change in emergency radio frequencies in 2004 this kind of upgrade has been something he has strived to achieve.
"We'll be close to 100 percent coverage," he said. Regarding the significance of Wednesday, he added, "Today means we're on our way to significantly improving communication for law enforcement, fire and highway officials and others."
Wagner continued, "I'm happy. It's been a long struggle and today is the culmination of the work we've done."