Emergency meeting

Southport’s emergency services committee met last week in the fire headquarters building. Members include (clockwise from left) aldermen Todd Coring and Mary Ellen Poole, rescue chief Neal Sage, city manager Pat Thomas, police chief Jerry Dove and fire chief Greg Cumbee. (Photo by Jonathan Spiers)

Fuzzy reception and unreliable signals are prompting the City of Southport to draft a letter requesting assistance from Brunswick County regarding the new Viper radio system.

When the city’s fire and rescue departments tried out the new radios on July 4, they found that reception was bad south of Leonard Street, closer toward the waterfront, said rescue chief Neal Sage and alderman Todd Coring, a captain with the fire department, at the latest meeting of the city’s emergency services committee.

Sage said he can receive calls in his house but cannot transmit from the house. Coring relayed similar experiences, and fire chief Greg Cumbee and police chief Jerry Dove expressed concerns about the radios, which became standard for the county last year.

“I cannot send two guys into a building and have one of them go down—I can’t send the other one. I wouldn’t even think about it,” Cumbee said. 

“The reason why we have problems here is there is enough a grade going down toward the water—the signal shoots over it,” Sage said, referring to signals from towers located farther inland. Sage said an easy solution would be to install a small repeater, on a location such as the city’s water tower, that could repeat signals to responders in and around Southport.

Sage said the cost to do so could be in the range of $3,000. But the change in radios would prompt that purchase, hence the idea of drafting a letter to the county. City manager Pat Thomas offered to write it up, and committee members plan to review it before requesting the aldermen’s approval next month.

“I would think it’s a range issue and an elevation issue,” Thomas said.

Dove noted that the police department was scheduled to go online with the radios starting this week, while Cumbee said the fire department remains several months out from a full transition.

Coring, who is also a first sergeant with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, noted that he did not want the letter to look like the city complaining about the radios, but rather that it has concerns. 

“It was good they tried it on the Fourth,” Coring said.

“It was a good test,” Cumbee agreed. “And it’s proof that it’s not working for us.”