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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Weather May Cause Emergency Radio Skip

"There's a lot going on with MABAS Mutual Aid Boxed Alarm System)...We're gaining more confidence, more comfort," Town of Peshtigo Fire Chief Mike Folgert declared Thursday, Aug. 10, in his role as chair of Marinette County's 911 User's Committee. He said there were lots of 911 calls in which the MABAS system was used, and there were "a couple of missed opportunities."

Emergency responders could include rescue squads, fire departments, law enforcement, emergency management people, whoever is necessary to deal with whatever situation might arise.

The MABAS system is a statewide organization that helps facilitate communication and set up of pre-planned response orders in which assistance from other emergency service providers is called in when needed, for example if a fire department needs help with a major fire, or gets more calls at one time than it can handle. Responders could come from departments nearby, or in a major disaster, perhaps from all over the state and beyond.

Cards are prepared for each department giving contact information for those willing to give aid, and the order in which they are to be called in. If one is unable to assist, the next department on the list would be contacted.

This would apply to rescue squads, fire departments, police departments, etc., and particularly in instances in which multiple responses would be needed, for example a major storm, a multiple-vehicle accident, or a major fire.

Present for the monthly 911 Users Committee meeting in addition to Folgert were Marinette County Supervisor Ken Keller, who chairs the county's Law Enforcement Committee and also is a Marinette City alderman, City of Marinette Fire Chief Jay Heckel, County 911 Communications Director Kirsten Bellisle; Mike Orlando, of Bay Area Medical Center EMS; Marinette County Information Services Director Kevin Solway, and Richard Seils, Jr., Assistant Town of Peshtigo Fire Chief and head of the Marinette County Fire Association.

Folgert expressed disappointment that there were no Marinette County Emergency Management or Dispatch people present for the last two MABAS meetings. "We need your support," he declared. The next MABAS meeting will be at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9 at the county Law Enforcement Center. Seils said he would like to get more rescue squads involved with MABAS. He said particularly when most squads are short of personnel it is likely the first squad paged out might not be able to respond and it should be easy to contact the next nearest squad, which would be the case if they were on the MABAS card.

Orlando was asked if BAMC wanted to be involved and he said they do want to be listed on the life safety card. Folgert declared they would like all the rescue squads and the BAMC emergency response/ambulance team to be familiar with MABAS and drill with other emergency responders when they practice.

Orlando said there is some hesitation among the rescue squads, "They aren't all quite there," he said.

Folgert said they will be redoing the MABAS cards at the end of the year and need to know the emergency medical responders plans.

He said at a recent conference he was told more and more agencies are declining calls for assistance. If the cards are filled out completely dispatchers can keep going down the line until they get someone willing and able to respond.

The group was informed that on Sunday, Oct. 8 there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new fire training burn tower training facility at NWTC-Green Bay.

Orlando reported BAMC had received some state funded equipment that sends them location and address information on their I-pads when emergency medical help is requested. He said they had invited rescue squads to participate and the only one that did not respond was Niagara. The grant would put WIFI in all the squads that participate.

Solway said there is a good chance the county will replace their entire public safety software package in the next 18 months. "We're looking at some significant dollars," he commented. "There's a lot of neat new stuff out there, and it all comes down to what we can afford."

He said the big goal is to improve communications without putting any added steps on dispatch, which has "too much to do already."

At the start of the meeting Folgert reported that a meeting at Stevens Point that he and Heckel attended included sessions on a statewide MABAS response to a widespread disaster in Gatlinburg, Tenn., a successful search for three kids lost in a mine in Dodge County, and a live tabletop exercise involving a shooter in a dispatch center.

Next issue on the agenda were operational concerns with dispatch procedures or appropriate use of radio frequencies by user departments.

Bellisle said weather had been causing some problems with their system, the air conditioning went out and the equipment does not respond well to over heating, and there has been a lot of radio interference. "At least we have the city for backup," she commented. She felt the interference may be connected with excess heat and humidity.

Emergency management Director Eric Burmeister said there is a separate problem with radios in some of the Sheriffs Department cars. There used to be a monitor feature on their speakers, through which officers could hit a button to monitor other channels, but now if they accidentally hit that button they pick up Price County, which has the same frequency. Officers need to check to be sure their monitor button is not on, as this may be causing some of the "skip". The newer radios do not have that frequency.

There also is a problem in that dispatch cannot monitor digital coordinators, only analog.

Heckel said his department uses digital to talk between people on his department in order not to overload dispatch.

Regardless, "We all had a real mess on June 11," Folgert declared. He was referring to the Sunday afternoon storm that caused major power outages and downed wires in a large area of the county, for which emergency disaster relief is still being calculated.

Folgert asked Bellisle if her department could assign radio frequencies and Bellisle said they could.

There was discussion on handling calls to Wisconsin Public Service to report power outages. The committee was told they all go on the 911 emergency lines. She said on the night of the storm her dispatchers spent four hours on nothing but WPS calls, but she did not ever want to say that downed wires are a non-emergency. However, many of the calls report the same tree or wire downed.

Heckel suggested part of the problem is citizens do not have an easily locatable number to dial to report non-emergency situations. In some parts of the country dialing 411 contacts non-emergency help. Bellisle said if people dial 411 they get her department anyway. However, her department does have a non-emergency number, but it is not publicized. Members agreed having the number publicized might help. That issue will be on the agenda for the next 911 Users Committee, which is to be on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Law Enforcement Center.

At the Marinette County Law Enforcement Committee meeting on Monday, Aug. 14, Bellisle reported 911 Dispatch received 7,369 calls in July. Of them, 1,306 were emergency calls and 6,062 were for non-emergencies. The busiest time was during a storm on Wednesday, July 12, with most calls reporting downed wires. Busiest hour was 4 p.m. and in general, Saturday was the busiest day of the week.


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