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Butte emergency responders having communications problems with radios

Posted at 12:24 PM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-29 13:20:15-04

BUTTE – Police and firefighters in Butte are equipped with portable radios that are proving to sometimes be unreliable.

“This dispatch can’t really distinguish what the officers are saying. You can tell somebody is transmitting, but the transmission’s garbled so it’s not understandable,” said Butte Sheriff Ed Lester.

The handheld radios used by emergency responders are so low-power that cell phones, wi-fi signals, and even some overhanging lighting can sometimes interfere with transmissions.

“And as areas get urbanized, VHF radio systems are less effective,” Lester said.

These interferences have caused difficulty for officers.

“We had an issue one time on South Harrison Avenue at a local restaurant, the officer was involved in kind of a disturbance with a person who was wanted and the officer could not transmit and dispatch could not hear him. Now, thankfully, it ended okay,” said Lester.

In an emergency situation, first responders will tell you the most important thing is to have an open and clear line of communication.

“It’s important for every first responder in this town, whether it be a policeman or fireman. Butte’s pretty small; either you know a fireman personally or a policeman or you’re related to them. Getting quality equipment is going to ensure that they go home to their families every night,” said Officer Ryan Hardy.

Police say it could cost well over a $1 million to upgrade the portable radios.

-John Emeigh reporting for MTN News