SPECIAL REPORT: Silent Alarm - Life or death calls - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Silent Alarm - Life or death calls


Volunteer fire departments in parts of Marathon County are facing a big problem: silent pages. When someone calls 911, it goes to Marathon County Dispatch who in turn page out to the first responders.

Volunteer fire departments rely on their pagers to tell them when someone is in need of help, but for months those pages don't always come through. When they do, it can sometimes just be a few words that they hear.

"The other day Marathon County called me up, is the ambulance en route, no one in Stratford got the page," said Stratford Fire Chief Bill Griesbach. "I did not get a page for over two weeks one time."

The Stratford Area Fire Department and McMillan Fire Department said the issues started about seven months ago after an antennae was struck by lightning.

"We started getting a buzzing noise with the pages and then slowly the audio started dropping off," said McMillan Fire Chief Rod Bauer.

Months later, and the problem persists with lives on the line.

"It could mean life or death for some individuals," said Bauer. "We've had instances where resources couldn't get to the individuals."

While there is a back-up system in place on the cell phones, even those don't always work, putting people at risk.

"We have a back up system called 'I am responding' on the phone which is kind of a band aid for the problem," said Stratford Fire Department Captain Tim Carey. "It's a good system but that doesn't always work if you don't have cell coverage."

First responders said the phone app doesn't always have all of the information from a 911 call, and doesn't show up right away all of the time.

"We don't get them right off the back, there could be a two minute delay," said Griesbach.

Fire officials said the antennae was replaced and tests have been done over the months. However, they haven't seen any improvements in the paging.

"If only half the people get the page and the other half are on the ambulance call, nobody comes," said Carey. "We've had a number of instances where no one get the page at all."

Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger said they've been working with Tait, the company responsible for the antennaes, on a solution to the problem.

"We've had an issue down in the Stratford area that's been very confusing to us," said Karger. "We've stripped away what it isn't at this point, now the question is figuring out what it is and getting that repaired."

Karger said fixing the issue is a top priority for the county. Why has it taken so long? Tait executives said it's not an easy problem to fix because there are many factors involved. The paging difficulties have been an intermittent issue, also making it difficult to fix.

"We've tried several different resolutions along with the county and a consultant so we make sure we get a proper plan in place, but several of those resolutions haven't solved the problem," said Tait President of the Americas Region Bruce Mazza.

Engineers were sent out late October to work on a resolution, however there is no definitive timetable for a fix. Newsline 9 will continue to follow this story.

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