Emergency Crews Want to Get on the Same Wavelength

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Radio communication is key for emergency responders. Right now, departments across Northwest Arkansas are not on the same wavelength.

“Most public safety officials could probably agree, the best system is one where you can roam… What you’ll find in Northwest Arkansas is a cornucopia of communication systems… It does become concerning any time you have responders that need to work together, sometimes they regularly work together,” said Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins.

“It’s a life-saving piece of equipment for us… It’s our communication to the world when we’re stuck in a basement or stuck in a ravine or building collapse,” said Fayetteville Fire Chief David Dayringer.

Since fire crews in our area are currently all using different systems, they cannot talk to each other. If one city helps another, they have to communicate through workarounds and a patchwork system of sorts.

“Those become life safety issues, especially on an emergency incident scene where you need to get time sensitive, critical information to another responder that wears a different uniform,” said Chief Jenkins.

The State of Arkansas maintains its own radio system called the “Arkansas Wireless Information Network” or AWIN. Fayetteville Fire is on AWIN and Chief Dayringer knows the benefits firsthand.

“We made the transition to the AWIN system because it’s a broader, more far-reaching system… If we’re all on the AWIN system, we won’t have to carry around two different radios… When we deploy across the state, we can maintain communications with everyone… We’d like to see Benton County and Rogers get the AWIN system because then that communication would be more simple between us on scenes,” said Dayringer.

Chief Jenkins has been working to make the switch since 2012. The transition would cost Rogers around $3 million dollars. A proposal is expected to be presented to the Rogers City Council in the coming months.

“We hope to join Fayetteville, at least, on the Arkansas Wireless Information Network and we hope that it’s pied piper syndrome, right? We’d love for other cities to join, other counties to join… We try to be frugal with the taxpayer money, it’s just, we have to balance that with also making the right investment… It’s an expensive proposition, but there’s nothing more important than public safety,” said Jenkins.

If disaster strikes anywhere in the state, our emergency teams want to be able to communicate. While each department currently has a radio system that works for them, the goal is to operate as a region seamlessly.

“This is a lifeline right here. This is a lifeline from the firefighters that are in there in the battle to the world outside,” said Chief Dayringer.

“If we say that coverage is important, if we say the ability to talk to other public safety users no matter what the discipline – fire, police, EMS – is important, then it only makes sense that we follow the lead of the state,” said Chief Jenkins.

In Northwest Arkansas, the Springdale Fire Department is also considering making the switch to AWIN. The possibility was discussed Monday night at a council committee meeting. Across the state, Little Rock, Jonesboro and Fort Smith fire departments all use AWIN.

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