Saranac Lake fire dept. worries about sharing radio frequency

SARANAC LAKE – The village Board of Trustees has tabled a plan to share an emergency radio frequency with Franklin County after Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department officials raised concerns about it and asked for a meeting to discuss the proposal.

A resolution on the board’s agenda Monday night would have authorized village Manager John Sweeney to enter into a contract with Franklin County Emergency Services to share a high-band radio frequency licensed to the village. Village fire drivers currently use the frequency to dispatch local fire and EMS personnel. The county wants to use it to provide pager dispatching from its Malone E-911 center to the Paul Smiths/Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department, which recently asked the county to do so.

“Our county recently migrated to VHF (high-band) dispatching,” county Emergency Services Director Rick Provost wrote in a July 15 letter to Sweeney. “The new system was grant funded and pagers were purchased for the PSGFD. In 2009, when this grant was written, the PSGFD decided to stay with Saranac Lake FD as their dispatch so therefore we assumed that no VHF infrastructure would be needed.”

In May, the Paul Smiths/Gabriels fire department voted to have Franklin County take over high-band pager dispatching of its members.

Provost, in his letter, noted that the Paul Smiths/Gabriels department averages just over 100 calls a year.

“The frequency would be a page only frequency in this case,” he wrote. “The PSGFD and Franklin County would continue to operate on VHF (low band) for all communications. The impact on the current SLFD and EMS would be minimal.”

Before the resolution came before the village board Monday night, Saranac Lake Fire Chief Brendan Keough and Head Fire Driver Rick Yorkey asked trustees to postpone the decision.

“I’d simply ask that you table it for tonight until the fire department has a chance to discuss this bill, to know if it’s going to positively or negatively affect the department,” Keough said. “We should have that courtesy.”

Trustee Allie Pelletieri moved to table the resolution, pending a work session with the fire department.

Yorkey and Keough told the Enterprise after the meeting that they’re concerned that if the county shares the frequency, dispatchers in Malone could override the fire department’s transmissions.

“It’s our primary frequency,” Keough said. “We don’t have another frequency to switch to for fire ground communications. If we’re on a call and a firefighter in a building is in distress and calls a mayday and the county is chiming in on our frequency to page out another department, they’re going to step on that firefighter trying to call mayday.”

Even though the Paul Smiths/Gabriels fire department is only averaging 100 calls a year, Keough noted that the two departments often get sent to the same fire calls.

“You just need one firefighter mayday that gets trumped,” he said. “That’s one call too many.”

Yorkey said the fire department got its own high-band frequency to avoid these kinds of problems.

“Five years ago, we got our own high-band frequency through a grant, so we wouldn’t bother anybody and nobody would bother us,” Yorkey said. “Now that Franklin County switched to high band, they gave Paul Smiths high-band pagers, and they will work in Paul Smiths but we’ve heard from some of their members that they don’t work in Saranac Lake. So now they want to go on our frequency and we’ve been left out of everything.”

The village board plans to meet with fire department officials prior to its next meeting, at 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 26 in the village offices in the Harrietstown Town Hall, 39 Main St.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or