State Senator Bill Larkin Jr. came to the City of Newburgh to announce $250,000 in state funding for the City of Newburgh Fire Department on Tuesday. The money will pay for a complete overhaul of the fire department’s radio communication system.
“If you don’t have the equipment in order for you to do your job, that’s a sad state of affairs,” said Larkin at the City of Newburgh Fire Department that morning.
Larkin received a letter from acting city Fire Chief Terry Ahlers in January explaining the danger posed by the department’s outdated radio equipment. “This is something we’ve been hobbled with for a while,” Ahlers said.
The department’s current radio system operates on a VHF, or very-high frequency bandwidth, most often used with older communications systems. According to Senator Larkin’s Office, this bandwidth does not work in large buildings at Mount Saint Mary College, SUNY Orange, St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, various school buildings and certain high-rise buildings in the city.
Moreover, Orange County emergency services work with radio equipment using UHF, the ultra-high frequency bandwidth. This posed a safety hazard during the fatal chemical fire at the Verla cosmetics factory in New Windsor in November last year.
One man died in the blaze and more than 30 people were injured, including eight City of Newburgh fire fighters. Several city firefighters suffered from second-degree burns, one broke his leg and another sustained hearing damage. “Some of those guys had no idea those conditions were deteriorating,” Ahlers said. “They could not hear the other departments talking.”
During the fire, city firefighters used the VHF radios while the other responding fire departments were working with UHF radios. This proved to be extremely dangerous when an explosion took place while the firefighters were inside the Verla facility.
“When the explosion occurred, they radioed for help but no one heard them, due to the different frequency being used, and no one knew where to look for them once they were determined to be missing,” Larkin wrote to State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, asking for the funding in February. “One firefighter was trapped for nine minutes continually transmitting his location to no avail. He was rescued just as his air ran out.”
The new radio system equipment will be water and heat-resistant, allowing firefighters to operate the radios without having to take off their gloves. The radio system will also have a distress locator feature that, with the click of a button, will be able to send out distress signals. “If he can get that (button) pressed, they will be able to find him,” Ahlers said.
Larkin and Ahlers were joined Tuesday by city and county officials including Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, District 4 County Legislator Kevindaryan Lujan, Orange County Sheriff Carl DuBois and Newburgh City Manager Michael Ciaravino.
By SHANTAL RILEY