Board okays funding to fix police, fire radio reception

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen voted Tuesday to spend $11,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency storm mitigation funds and to accept a $26,000 Homeland Security grant so that the town’s fire and police department can finally have reliable radio communications.

For years, both police and fire personnel have experienced “a huge gap” in radio reception due to the lack of satellite receivers as well as interference from commercial radio frequencies on Shawnee Peak, Police Chief Richard Stillman told the board.

“Once (police officers) are out of their cruiser, they can’t depend on portables,” Stillman said. “With the fire department, it’s the same thing.”

Stillman said a satellite receiver positioned in the center of town will provide reliable radio reception within a one-mile radius for both the police and fire departments. “It will mitigate, but not solve all of the problems,” he said. The filtering equipment will eliminate interference for fire radio frequencies.

Once he became aware of the problem, Stillman was immediately concerned that the safety of his officers was at stake. He said he learned of a soon-closing grant window from Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Budway, and Bridgton EMA Director Todd Perreault was able to put together a Homeland Security grant on very short notice. The $26,000 award, however, was insufficient to cover a $37,500 quote from Mark Davis of Dirigo Wireless to install the filtering needed by the fire department and one satellite receiver, Stillman said.

Selectmen immediately moved to appropriate the balance from the town’s FEMA account, but then a discussion ensued as to whether the project should be sent out to bid. A recently-enacted Purchasing Policy sets a $25,000 ceiling before bids are required, but Town Manager Bob Peabody said that provision can be waived if the need is seen as an emergency. He also said that it could be argued that no bidding is needed because the town’s share of costs is well under the limit at $11,000.

Peabody also pointed out that the purchasing policy gives him, and not the board, the power to decide whether to send a project out to bid.

Fire Chief Glen Garland told the board that Dirigo Wireless has a long track record with the town, helping the town exclusively with radio communication needs and issues since 2011.

Board Chairman Bernie King didn’t feel a bidding process was needed.

“We’ve been experiencing problems for some time. Even by the Shell station, county couldn’t hear (police officers) at all,” King said. “It’s officer’s safety we’re talking about.”

Peabody said “Under that scenario, this could certainly be an emergency situation.”

The vote was unanimous to spend the money and accept the grant.

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