By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Muffled, distant and static-filled radio dispatches will soon be a thing of the past for the city’s police and fire departments.
Workers are in the process of completing a $1.1 million overhaul of Methuen’s public safety communications systems that saw the police department make the jump to digital, narrowband radio last week.
“It sounds like you’re listening to a television or radio show — it’s so crystal clear,” marveled police Chief Joseph Solomon. “It’s like they’re right here in the room.”
The fire department is expected to join the MPD in the transition from wideband to narrowband in the next few weeks. Departments have until Jan. 1 to make the federally-mandated change.
“We’re probably, I want to guess, three weeks away from going totally on the new system,” said fire Chief Steven Buote. “It will be brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment.”
The City Council approved the purchase of new equipment and infrastructure in February. It broke down to $385,000 for the fire department and $757,000 for the police department, including the replacement of toughly 75 fire and 145 police radios.
The new radios can be programmed to carry digital and analog transmissions. Buote said the fire department will continue using analog because it tends to work better than digital within close distances like fire scenes.
The upgrade also includes new repeater sites, dispatch consoles and antennas. Transmission lines have been upgraded from copper to fiber-optic cable.
“Basically, we had to build our radio system from the ground up,” said Officer Walter Fleming, a communications specialist with the police department.