When members of the Daviess County Fire Department attempt to contact the 911 dispatch center from their portable radios, they aren't always heard by dispatchers.

While the problem doesn't happen every day, it does happen. Dropped communications are a concern, Daviess County Fire Chief Dwane Smeathers said.

"That's your lifeline," he said.

Now, the 911 dispatch center has brought on a team of engineers to determine what is causing the messages to not reach dispatch.

City-county 911 Director Paul Nave said what officials know is the lost messages are always very short, such as when a firefighter checks in with dispatch by sending his call number over a portable radio. The same thing sometimes happens when dispatch tries to check in on a county firefighter when the firefighter is on a portable radio.

"There are times when small packets of data our not being received in the field" or by dispatch, Nave said. "A unit will say (their number), and we will not hear that."

The issue doesn't occur with longer messages, Nave said. Why the issues are occurring is unclear. The communication issue caused problems recently when a lightning strike caused a fire at the east Daviess County fire station.

"When the station caught fire, everyone with a pager heard (the call) '231 to central,' " Smeathers said. "But dispatch didn't hear it." The fire officer on duty "had to go find his cellphone to call 911."

"It's very frustrating," Smeathers said. "... We don't know if they're hearing us."

Nave said the problem is "not consistent."

The city's radio technicians, officials with Motorola and with Ohio Valley Radio are researching the problem, Nave said. Also, the consultant hired to recommend how to improve the county's VHF radio communication system used by emergency responders might also suggest ways to alleviate the problem when they submit their report sometime in the next few weeks, Smeathers said.

"They may have some answers to consider on what's causing the problem," Smeathers said.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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