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The Riverhead Ambulance District’s communications equipment provider has supplied the district with a radio repeater on loan to get the the district’s UHF communications system up and running again while a new repeater is ordered and installed.

The supplier, Integrated Wireless Technologies, had the loaner equipment online as of about 2 p.m. That’s when a test transmission went out from “Radio Repair” to Riverhead Police headquarters, which responded, “We read you loud and clear.”

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps president Keith Lewin confirmed in a phone interview that the system is again operational. “We’re back up and running,” he said.

As reported by RiverheadLOCAL yesterday, the ambulance district’s radio repeater died last Wednesday.

A repeater is equipment that is a combined receiver and transmitter that allows two-way radio signals to cover longer distances.

When the repeater went down last week, RVAC at first had the Riverhead Police Department dispatch center switch to the ambulance district’s backup repeater. The ambulance corps then learned the backup system was inadequate for communications outside the core area of the town, Lewin said. The backup repeater’s signal could not reach west of Edwards Avenue or east of Edgar Avenue, according to Councilman Tim Hubbard, town board liaison to the ambulance district. The repeater’s antenna is not tall enough to do the job, he said.

As of Monday, RVAC arranged to switch to a Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services backup system which operates on VHF rather than UHF. The county loaned RVAC 20 portable radios, since RVAC members’ UHF radios are not compatible with the county’s system. The 20 radios are not enough to supply every member of the ambulance corps. In addition, Lewin said in an interview yesterday, the VHF backup is not compatible with the UHF equipment in use by neighboring EMS agencies, making communications between agencies very difficult, at best, for mutual aid call purposes.

Lewin and Hubbard both complained that the town was not moving quickly enough to replace the ambulance communications system repeater.

The communications system is the property of the Riverhead Ambulance District, a special taxing district that is part of the Town of Riverhead and governed by the town board — like other special districts such as the water district, sewer district and street lighting district.

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps is a private not-for-profict corporation established in 1978 to provide emergency medical services to the Riverhead Ambulance District under contract with the district.

The ambulance district — that is, the town — owns the communications system equipment, except for the handheld radios, which are the personal property of the volunteers, said Lewin.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith brought Riverhead Police Lt. David Lessard into the town board work session this morning to discuss with the board the steps that the town has taken to fix the ambulance communications issue.

“I want people to know that during this time there was connectivity. There were no missed calls. The district has been covered,” Jens-Smith said. She said people have expressed concerns about that.

“I want to make sure the ambulance volunteers know this is not something we were not addressing,” Jens-Smith said at the work session today. “From the moment we knew about it, we were addressing it. We worked tirelessly, Lt. Lessard worked tirelessly, to make sure that everything that needed to be in place was in place,” she said.

No one from RVAC was present for this morning’s meeting.

Integrated Wireless Technology told Riverhead Ambulance District manager Albert Gehres in an email last night that the company could supply a loaner repeater that could match the performance of the repeater that was taken out of service.

IWT account executive Andrew Hintze apologized to Gehres for not offering a loaner sooner.

“I was not aware of the poor performance of the backup repeater” until yesterday, Hintze wrote in the email, which was provided to RiverheadLOCAL by Lewin last night. Lewin said last night he had just forwarded the offer to all members of the town board.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town should get quotes from both Integrated Wireless Technologies and Relay Communications for the new equipment to be purchased.

“They are a Riverhead family-owned company,” Giglio said. “They already serve our highway department. We should talk to both companies to see who will give us the better deal.”

Jens-Smith issued a written statement this afternoon outlining a “plan of action.”

“First, we will immediately purchase new and state-of-the-art equipment so that we solve our communications issue.

“Next, we will work to resolve the longer term matter of upgrading our town’s entire communications system.

“Finally, when the problem is solved, I will convene a meeting of our police department, the RVAC and all appropriate town officials to come up with a new emergency measures plan that will outline a streamlined set of procedures in the event of a future communications breakdown,” Jens-Smith said in the statement.

“Equipment fails, things break down, but protecting the public is our most important job. When it comes to public safety there is no compromise,” she said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.