Hawley subscribes to app as backup to emergency paging system

By LIESEL NYGARD

For the Recorder

Published: 05-23-2023 11:11 AM

HAWLEY — To provide a backup to its emergency paging system, the Fire Department has subscribed to a cellular paging app called IamResponding after receiving Selectboard approval.

Along with dispatchers having the ability to send messages to firefighters concerning the address and nature of the emergency call, the app has a calendar setting to schedule trainings and a texting feature for group chats. The app also provides links to resources and field guides for emergency scenarios.

The idea of subscribing to IamResponding was approved unanimously by the Selectboard, with member Hussain Hamdan saying the app “allows for greater situational awareness and redundancy.” The subscription costs $355 for the first year, and is being paid for using the Fire Department’s budget.

According to Hamdan, who is a firefighter and EMT in Hawley, 26 jurisdictions in Franklin County already use the app. Hamdan said everyone using the app will “reduce the amount of traffic going over the radio network.”

“If anybody is talking on [the radio] about every single minor detail, you’re losing access that could be used for somebody to say something over the air that’s more important,” Hamdan explained. “It ensures that the radio system is being reserved for what absolutely needs to go over it and less critical, routine traffic is being addressed through other means.”

However, the addition of the app does not mean the town will discontinue its emergency paging system. In fact, the town has expressed interest in being part of a Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) funding effort to purchase pagers for fire and EMS departments across Franklin County.

Although the $450,000 federal earmark for the pagers was passed by Congress, it will likely be several months before departments know all the requirements for this funding, and when and how it will arrive, according to Erving Fire Chief Philip Wonkka.

Hawley needs new pagers because, like some other towns in the county, it is still using the old 450 megahertz network, and plans to transition to the 800 megahertz system that is becoming more available locally. Hussain said Hawley has noticed some technical issues with the 450 megahertz system.

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“There were quite a few situations where dispatch thought that a signal was going out, but people either were not receiving it or they were receiving it with very poor audio quality,” Hamdan said.

With around a dozen firefighters on its volunteer department, Hussain said he hopes Hawley can receive 15 new pagers in case more people join the Fire Department in the future. On average, Fire Chief Greg Cox said the Fire Department receives around 60 calls a year. This winter, however, that number increased to upwards of 80 calls — not all of which made it through to firefighters.

“We had a couple of people miss their calls because their pagers didn’t go off,” Cox said, “but they live in better areas with cell service. … We want to use [the app] as a backup.”

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