Wireless is critical for public safety | Guest column

by Jim Ghiglione

Fire Chief, SJCFD #4

When I first began my work as the Lopez Island Fire Chief July 1, 2008, I was challenged to improve communications for our first responders and thereby improve public safety for all. This has been a tall order given our rugged and remote landscape, federally mandated radio frequency realignments that resulted in two-way radio communications going from bad to worse, and the fact that, until OPALCO came forward, no one was willing to make the infrastructure investment necessary to serve our unique rural community. There are large communication gaps on Lopez – and throughout our island communities that: prevent our first responders from getting a call, delay care for our sick and injured citizens, isolate our first responders (including OPALCO linemen) who routinely put themselves in dangerous situations to serve the community, and limit our team’s ability to deliver services.

A few short years ago a man suffered a cardiac event while biking on Lopez. His companions tried to use their cell phone to call for help but had no signal.  There was a delay of over five minutes before they could contact the 911 center, and by the time we arrived the victim had died.  Two years ago there was an industrial accident and the worker died. Fortunately his coworkers did have a cell signal, contacted 911, we were dispatched and our medic and EMTs revived him, were able to contact the on-call physician and the receiving hospital using the cellular phone.  However had this accident been 200 yards farther down the road, there was no cell signal.

Now, thanks to OPALCO and Rock Island Communications, this is the first big step to help meet my mandate to deploy and implement a solution to close the communication gaps. With the expansion of OPALCO’s electric and fiber grid and Rock Island Communication’s wireless deployment, we are on our way to a higher level of public safety.  There are some on Lopez who will object to the poles that are going up (in accordance with the County’s Joint Use Wireless Facilities code), but I cannot lose sight of the critical need to strengthen emergency communications for our entire community, for the safety of our EMS and fire volunteers and lose the opportunity to create a true county-wide safety net.

Thank you, OPALCO leadership, for choosing fiber 15 years ago, your commitment to safety and raising the quality of life in our island communities and your cooperation with the EMS community. Thank you Rock Island Communications for your expertise in building and managing the wireless solution to reach into some of our remote corners.  Thank you for helping me to do the job that I was hired to do.