6:00: Morning News

Monongalia County first responders ‘in the dark’ in some areas of the county due to radio issues

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — First responders in Monongalia County, especially those assigned to serve the western end, are calling attention to what could be a tragedy in the making.

Monongalia County Volunteer Firefighters Association President Mickey Rhinehart said 20 years ago, Monongalia, Marion and Harrison Counties opted to switch to a trunking system that’s actually designed for mobile communications. When the tower was replaced on Catherine’s Knob three years ago, the problems grew in scope.

“Radio communications out to the west have been almost non-existent at times, with many of the first responders out there,” Rinehart said. “That’s our biggest issue—not being able to talk to the 911 center or even receive calls for that matter.”

To work around the system problems, first responders have defaulted to mobile phones and hand-held options, but neither is reliable when seconds count.

“We do have the capability to receive calls on our phones through text messaging, but you have to have cell phone coverage for that to work,” Rinehart said. “So, we’re doing the best we can with what we do have in place right now.”

During a recent meeting, Rinehart said state officials appeared to be unaware of how bad the problems are.

“The feelings that I was getting from them were that this is as good as it’s going to get, and you have to live with it,” Rinehart said. “Obviously, that’s not something you want to explain to someone who has an emergency and needs our response.”

As a result of that meeting, state officials do plan to measure the signal from the new tower to make sure that’s not the issue and consider Mobile a temporary tower site as well to improve communications.

“He led me to believe that he was not as aware of the severity of the issues we are having here, but it appears he is at least trying to take some steps forward to see if there’s a fix to this situation.”

Rinehart did not specify what elected representatives he’s talking to but did say they are now working together to find a solution.

“They have both reiterated they would try to make contact at the state level to see if we can get anything going—at least more talks to see if we can get a remedy to the situation,” Rinehart said.

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