It's a "dead zone" for emergency radios in Dinwiddie County. For more than three years, first responders haven't been able to make mayday calls in the most populous part of the County. But now, Dinwiddie is putting a cell phone tower to good use - saving lives.
A Verizon tower on Weakly Road is about to become a game-changer for Dinwiddie law enforcement, fire and EMS. Dennis Hale, Dinwiddie director of fire and EMS, said a deputy engaged in a 2009 pursuit could have used the tower to call for backup.
"A sheriff's deputy was in a struggle with a suspect, luckily, he had a ride-a-long with him that night," Hale said in an interview Wednesday. "His radio, his portable radio that was on his body, didn't work as it should have."
That's because the deputy was in a dead zone, where emergency radio communication was out of date. The law enforcement officer made it out of the situation alive.
"His ride-a-long had to actually use his vehicle radio and a telephone to get him help," Hale said. "I mean, he got help, but not like he should have."
But now, Verizon is allowing Dinwiddie to use its tower for emergency communications, with no rent charges. As for the three year wait, Hale says fixing a dead zone is not as easy as going outside and sticking a radio antenna in the ground.
"A site had to be located, studies had to be done, it's not as easy as it seems," he said.
Even though the rent is free, Dinwiddie County had to come up with $750,000 to buy and install the communications equipment. The cost would have been higher if Dinwiddie had to build a new tower altogether.
The dead zone is located where Dinwiddie receives the most emergency calls, the northeast part of the county.
"It is our most high volume from fire, EMS and law enforcement," Hale said. "That's where our population is centered, so our call volume is much higher there."
The tower is now powered, but more sensitive testing will take place in the coming weeks before first responders can use the new equipment.
Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.
WWBT-TV NBC 12
P.O. Box 12
On Your Side
Video and Pics