MILLERSPORT - The first reviews of a new 330-foot Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) tower to help first responder communications are good.
It has been active for about two weeks now. The $837,000 radio tower is located at the Walnut Township Trustees office property at 11420 Millersport Road NE. Groundbreaking was in June.
Fire, police and medical personnel had trouble talking to each other via radio in areas near here, along with Baltimore and Violet Township.
When they were talking to each with walkie-talkies, they had to rely on a repeater in their vehicle to send the signal to a tower at the Southeastern Correctional Institution. The new tower was designed to solve that problem, along with having higher bandwidth to allow more units to use it.
So far so good, according to those who use it.
"The issue with Baltimore is that we are in a bowl, so to speak," Baltimore Police Chief Mike Tussey said. "Radio is line of sight. So because of that we have very poor radio reception whether is receive or transmitting. If you're on top of that tower you're actually looking into Baltimore so it is a line of sight."
He said he has went around several areas of Baltimore testing the new tower and it's worked well. Tussey said in addition to provide for better officer safety, the new tower will help the department better serve residents.
County commissioner Dave Levacy, a former Millersport fire chief, said state agencies and first responders in Licking and Perry counties will also benefit from the tower.
"From the early reports we've received from the (Fairfield County) sheriff's office, it's extremely improved with the reception and broadcasting capability the sheriff has experienced," he said. "It becomes a real safety issue if you're not able to call backup or whatever the need may be from EMS (emergency medical service) or the sheriff."
Millersport and Thurston Fire Department Chief Robert Price said the tower will be a huge communications boost.
"I'm sitting at my house and prior to this antenna I would have to be close to a window to receive any radio traffic," he said. "Now anywhere in the house I've got full signal strength."
He said the Millersport area had always struggled with radio transmissions because of the lay of the land.
"We had to purchase our repeater to put on the water tower here in Millersport because there were times we couldn't talk to the sheriff's office off of the tower that's located in Baltimore," Price said. "So with this MARCS tower, how much it benefits us is just unmeasurable."
Sheriff Alex Lape said it's still too early to say how much of a total benefit the tower will offer. But he said so far it is providing for better coverage all the way over to Pickerington.
Lape said he hopes the tower will also make communication from buildings with lots of steel, like schools, better.