Penn. county police, fire portable radio batteries swapped
By TED CZEC
The Evening Sun
HANOVER, N.H. — In the fall of 2008, police departments in York County received new batteries and chargers from M/A-COM as part of the new 911 system the county was having installed.
But officers soon discovered what they believed was a major shortcoming with the new Nickel-cadmium batteries - their charge didn't hold for an entire shift, which for police departments can last as long as 12 hours.
Starting around the end of November, M/A-COM began swapping the 1,200 NiCd batteries with longer-lasting Nickel-metal Hydride batteries.
"We went to Tyco (M/A-COM's parent company) and said, 'Our end-users aren't happy,' so they offered the solution to swap them at no extra cost," said Brian Morrin, York County Office of Emergency Management spokesman.
Morrin explained that, several years ago, when the contract with M/A-COM was signed, NiCd batteries were the only ones that were designed to be "intrinsically safe."
The term, as Morrin described, means that a battery is "designed in such a way to limit the possibility that the battery will be an ignition source . . . You don't want a battery to cause an explosion."
Since the contract signing, technological advances have made NiMH batteries intrinsically safe, too, Morrin said.
On Thursday, Morrin said in an e-mail that, so far, about 500 NiMH batteries had been distributed to firefighters to replace their NiCds and that another 250 were delivered to the York County 911 Center that day.
"As soon as they can get their hands on them, they're bringing them in," Morrin said of M/A-COM.
Victoria Dillon, M/A-COM spokeswoman, confirmed the swap was underway.
"We were able to accommodate this swap," she said. "This accommodates everybody's issues on battery life. That's fine with us."
Gregory Bean, police chief at Southwestern Regional, said Saturday that his department had received some new chargers but had not yet been given the NiMH batteries.
"The specs on those were for eight hours," he said of the NiCd batteries. "In that we work an 11 1/2-hour shift, that kind of posed a problem. I think they came up with a good solution."
Because police departments "cut-over" to the new 911 system in early November, they will be given the batteries first, Morrin said.
"They're at the front of the line," he said of York County's police departments. "Then, we will deploy the rest as they become available."
York County's fire departments have yet to cut-over to the new system, but when they do, they'll most likely already have the new batteries and chargers, Manchester Township Fire Chief Richard Shank said.
"We're all in favor of the swap," said Shank, who acts as a liaison between York County 911 and the York County Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Association. "If this is going to fix it, then that's what we're looking for."
Shank added that the original chargers M/A-COM handed out are being swapped as well, and that the new ones will be more compatible with the NiMH batteries.
The new chargers will also have a distinct advantage, in that they can be installed in a vehicle as well as on a desk or table top, whereas the first chargers were not able to be installed in vehicles.
The story so far
Testing of York County's $36 million new 911 system -- manufactured and installed by M/A-COM -- began in early 2008. Several glitches, including lost or garbled transmissions, were discovered as agencies "cut over" to the new system in the latter part of the year.
Steve Frackleton, spokesman for M/A-COM, said in December the problems are typical with implementing a new system. In response to the problems, Eric Bistline, York County Director of Emergency Services, said M/A-COM technicians have been in York County since December to work on the system at the 911 center. Bistline went to M/A-COM's headquarters in Lynchburg, Va., to meet with executives of Tyco Electronics, M/A-COM's parent company, earlier this month.
Although Bistline remained positive in an interview earlier this month that the new system would be operational, he also asked M/A-COM to prepare for a possible return to the old radio system while work is done on the new one.