St. Johns County improving radio communication system

Sheriff's Office, Fire Department getting rid of 20-year-old radios

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - St. Johns County firefighters and deputies will soon be able to ditch their old radios and graduate to a more modern communication system.

Right now they are training with the new radios.

While they may not look dramatically different, deputies say the new radios will make a huge difference in how they communicate with each other.

"We can communicate. There's not a broken signal," Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cpl. Catherine Payne said. "We don't have any static. We have a very clear signal and clear communication, which is important."

Payne said deputies training on the new radios are already praising them. The radio system they are phasing out is over 20 years old.

It's flaw became apparent in August 2011 when a BP gas station in St. Augustine exploded. Their radios weren't reliable, and calls went unanswered.

"We requested mutual aid from Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, and at that point in time, we could not communicate with them clearly," Payne said.

That shouldn't happen with this new system, and deputies are looking forward to the ability to communicate with other public safety agencies.

"It can become very frustrating, especially if you're trying to communicate third-hand and not communicating directly with the individuals responding to that incident," Payne said.

Right now, the Sheriff's Office is learning how to use the radios. Deputies hope to be online with the new system by the end of March.

The new system is identical to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's. So when they need help from across county lines, all agencies will be able to talk to each other.

The new radio system cost $24.5 million.

All emergency agencies around the country were federally mandated to update their equipment by 2013. That means everyone should be up-to-date to better protect residents and work callouts more efficiently.

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