ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The towers have been built. The technology has been tested. And very soon, firefighters and sheriff's deputies will be able to ditch their old radios and graduate to a more modern communication system.
"The performance that we've seen so far has been quite impressive," said Commander Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. He says they've needed an upgrade for a long time. "The technology we're on right now is old. It's been around my entire 25 year career."
The flaw in the system became apparent back in August of 2011 when the BP station in St. Augustine exploded. Their radios weren't reliable. Calls went unanswered.
"People were walking all over each other," said Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Prevatt. "Transmissions were not going out. Transmissions were not being heard."
That shouldn't happen with this new system. Instead of each public safety agency having their own frequency, Prevatt says they'll all be on the same one. He said it will, "Make it a lot easier for us."
Cmdr. Mulligan said, "The initial proposal was that any governmental agency within St. Johns County would be able to tie into this radio system."
That means local hospitals will be in the loop. And even the school district can tie in, giving schools a direct line to emergency crews. It's something the district tells Action News it's seriously considering.
Assistant Chief Prevatt says Fire Rescue should be online with the new system by March 11. Cmdr. Mulligan says the Sheriff's Office will take a little longer to get online.
Prevatt says the system they're getting is identical to the one used in Jacksonville. So, when they need help from across county lines, all agencies will be able to talk to each other.
The new radio system wasn't cheap. It cost $24.5 million. That includes the equipment, buildings to house the equipment, and 11 new towers. All emergency agencies around the country were federally mandated to update their equipment by 2013.