WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. - Firefighters, sheriff's deputies, emergency responders -- they all stay connected by using radios. But the cost to stay connected is changing in Washington County, Tennessee.
Johnson City is raising the rate for all emergency responders in the city and county to use the radio system.
We checked with firefighters to see if the change, coming from Johnson City, could be costly. Charles Baines, President of the Washington County, Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association says a prime example of how valuable this radio system is was when the tornadoes hit two years ago. Every single agency in the county and Johnson City was helping and responders were able to communicate using one channel.
When an emergency strikes, radios are a vital tool. They keep the Sulphur Springs Volunteer firefighters connected to hundreds of other emergency responders in both Johnson City and the county.
"We have five radios, one in each vehicle and we have one at our base for our base station and all our officers carry a radio," said Assistant Chief Bruce Brocklebank.
But that number may change, come July first the fee to use these radios will jump for users to stay connected. "We've not been informed exactly why we're receiving an increase," added Brocklebank.
It will go from $25 to $30 per radio each month. That may not sound like much, but the difference adds up to $8,000 a year for the Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department. "Right at this time we can't afford it, so our option at this point is to turn off some portable radios," said Brocklebank.
Baines says the increase is concerning for all seven Volunteer Fire Departments that take care of more than 120,000 people in Washington County, Tennessee. Firefighters may have to scale back on radios simply to stay within budget.
"Well it could cause a delayed response time as far as people communicating with other firefighters and requesting more help," added Baines.
Another worry is the safety of firefighters since it's their job to rush into fires to save lives. "Radio communication is key to get information out as quickly as possible," said Brocklebank.
When it comes to funding, there's the hope the County Commission will be able to give each Volunteer Fire Department more money to help cover the expenses.