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Alleghany County reviewing radio communications following floods

ALLEGHANY COUNTY (WSLS 10) - A member of the Eagle Rock Fire Department is still recovering at Roanoke Memorial Hospital.

Assistant Chief Alan Wright suffered a cardiac arrest after being pulled under water during last month's severe flooding.

The effort to save him has prompted more focus on Alleghany County's communication systems, which are outdated and don't connect with neighboring localities.

It all has to do with frequencies.

Alleghany County's fire and rescue uses radio responders that relay information over an 800 megahertz signal, but Botetourt County, Rockbridge County, even the Alleghany Police force all use 450 megahertz, meaning they can't communicate with the radios that all first responders carry on their hip.

It becomes a big problem when a major disaster like flooding occurs, but the solution is costly.

Alleghany County hardly looks today as if the flooding from June 23rd ever occurred.

Along Dunlap Creek, Botetourt and Alleghany crews had to fight the rising water to save Assistant Chief Alan Wright.

"We're still remaining optimistic. He's in stable condition and things are progressing day by day," said Botetourt Fire Chief Jason Ferguson.

Technology issues that night did not make the rescue easy.

"All of the counties that border Alleghany, save Greenbrier West Virginia, operate on UHF as well, so sometimes inter-operability can be a challenge," said Alleghany Public Safety Director Ryan Muterspaugh.

Muterspaugh explained just how much of challenge it is.

"In order to relay the information to one of those mutual aid agencies, they would have to go back to their firetruck or their ambulance, get on the mobile radio, and relay information or go through dispatch, and dispatch contacts the other locality's dispatch and we relay it kind of that way," said Muterspaugh.

Compare that to Botetourt County, that is part of the state police network, called RIOS, that allows responders to patch in to radios from other participating localities.

"The dispatchers can quickly call that dispatch center, confirm that we're going to tie the radio channels together, and select which ones, and then once that occurs, then you're talking back and forth," said Ferguson.

Muterspaugh says the county has an improvement plan, with a first goal of building new towers to improve radio coverage over the whole county.

The second is to switch everyone to 450 megahertz, but that plan is estimated to cost more than $6 million dollars.

"Funding a project of that magnitude for a small locality like ours is a challenge. We're going to explore funding sources, grant opportunities, anything that may come along that would help us get that cost down," said Muterspaugh.

Even if funding is secured, Muterspaugh says the towers and new equipment could take up to two years to put into place.

Muterspaugh did bring up the issue before county supervisors Tuesday night, but says he does not have a definite timeline for when a plan may actually be voted on.

There is also a fund set up to help Alan Wright with his medical expenses which you can donate to at the Bank of Botetourt Eagle Rock branch.