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Tower weight limits may hike paging system cost

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A new paging system for Pasquotank County's paramedics and firefighters will prove costlier than expected.

That’s because the county’s transmitting towers may be too weighed down to hold new equipment, county officials have learned.

Pasquotank commissioners on Monday approved hiring Tower Engineering Professionals, of Raleigh, to study the county's three dispatching towers and how to raise their weight limits. The contract calls for Tower to paid up to $29,600.

However, Sheriff Randy Cartwright told commissioners one of the towers doesn't need to be studied. In a followup interview, he said the study should cost only around $19,000.

Cartwright reported that new tower regulations have reduced how much more weight Pasquotank and Camden's Central Communications can put on the main tower on Wellfield Road and a tower in South Mills. There's minimal equipment on the third tower at Wades Point that covers southern Pasquotank, so it's been removed from the study, Cartwright said.

Pasquotank and Camden are looking to put more equipment on the towers to support a new “simulcast” paging system for Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services and the counties' volunteer fire departments, Cartwright explained. Though EMS and some firefighters have new, 800 MHz radios to help with communication, they also rely on the paging system to respond to calls, he said. Pasquotank is looking to upgrade the paging system because federal restrictions on frequencies — “narrow-banding” — has made it harder to page EMS and firefighters in remote parts of the county.

Cartwright said Wednesday he hopes to report back to commissioners on the engineering study in February. Until the study's complete, it's unclear what kind of improvements the two towers will need, Cartwright said. Tower Engineering Professionals' proposal states the firm will study both the towers themselves and their foundations.

Cartwright also said the paging system upgrades are separate from Pasquotank's conversion to the state's “VIPER” radio network. Pasquotank and Elizabeth City's first responders have converted to the VIPER network, which required equipment purchases, much of it new handheld radios, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Cartwright and Finance Officer Sheri Small couldn't immediately say Wednesday how much had been spent on the VIPER conversion.

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