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Old radios causing communication issues for first responders in Lorain County

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Posted at 6:08 PM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 19:13:10-05

ELYRIA, Ohio — In an emergency, every second counts and communication is key. But, in Lorain County some first responders said their lifeline is being cut off.

“It’s extremely dangerous,” said Adam Shaw, president of the Lorain County Deputies Association.

Shaw said the lives of the men and women who protect and serve Lorain County are in jeopardy and so are the lives of the people who live in Lorain County.

“We can’t communicate with our deputies half the time. Every week, a guy will call in a traffic stop or behind a vehicle he wants help with. He will call us we may hear him; he may call his partner may not hear him,” explained Shaw.

Shaw said in certain buildings and school deputies can’t hear or talk to one another on their radios. He added they can’t communicate with some other agencies in the county.

“Wellington, we can’t speak with them, Elyria we can’t speak with, OHP we can’t speak with,” said Shaw.

Some fire chiefs aren’t happy about the system either. Avon, Avon Lake, North Ridgeville, Sheffield Village and Sheffield Lake joined forces and purchased the same radio system.

“Right now, two communities that Elyria touches, North Ridgeville and Sheffield Village, I have no communication with," said Elyria Fire Chief Joe Pronesti.

When Sheffield Village called for mutual aid last month, Pronesti said that scenario played out and it’s heard on radio broadcast.

“Radio broadcast, Engine 4 you are not going to be able to operate on the frequency—have to operate on tactical channel 16.”

Four years ago, a study on the county’s communication system was completed. In December Commissioner Michelle Hung and former Commissioner Matt Lundy passed a plan for a new communication system. On Monday, newly elected Commissioner Jeff Riddell and Commissioner David Moore voted to rescind it.

“We think all of this is political,” said Lorain County Fire Chief’s Association President Mike Wetherbee. “We have no communication thread, that’s what we’re pushing for a system everyone can talk on, a good reliable system."

The rescue workers tested the new radios and support one system, while two of the three commissioners don’t agree. News 5 wanted answers so we went to the county commissioners. We were told Riddell left for vacation immediately after the meeting. He failed to return a text message.

Hung said she stands by the contract that was signed.

“If something did happen on a catastrophic call, what I’m being told by these guys is they’re calling and communicating on cell phones because their radios don’t work and as we all know what happened on 9/11, they couldn’t talk on cell phones,” said Hung.

Moore said he voted to rescind it because he claims the contract process wasn’t legal.

“It was bid rigging and steering a contract,” said Moore. “If this was done properly there would probably be no repeal, but it wasn’t done properly,” he added.

Hung disagrees and said it was done properly and was legal.

Lorain County got about $60 million dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Moore said all but about $10 million has been earmarked for other projects, but the money left could be used for the communication project under the guidelines of the federal funds.

First responders packed the board meeting on Monday during an emotional meeting.

One thing the commissioners agree on?

“A lot of political theater being done,” said Moore.

“Commissioners Riddell and Moore are playing political theater,” said Hung.

"We're being political pawns for a political agenda, and it shouldn't be that way," said Shaw.

Mayor Frank Whitfield sent the following letter to the county commissioners regarding the matter:

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