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James Sommers, the county's Public Safety Director, said the new system would eliminate dead spots within the county for first responders to communicate.

LIVE OAK — Suwannee County’s first responders may soon be joining a statewide radio communication network.

But the county’s Board of County Commissioners will first hold a special meeting Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. to further discuss the purchase of the equipment, as well as allowing County Attorney Jimmy Prevatt time to look over the proposed contracts. To lock in the current price, the county has to sign a purchase order before July 1.

Public Safety Director James Sommers and Sheriff Sam St. John asked the board to approve the purchase of the new radio equipment at its June 18 meeting. Sommers said the current system the county is using is more than 20 years old and has its issues, namely dead zones within the county.

“There’s lots of benefits to this system,” he said, stressing the importance of safety as well as the ability to communicate with other agencies as well as with each other, something they can not currently do through the current system.

The current system includes just four towers, which are maintained by the county.

The new system would have nine towers near the county along state highways and the interstates that would allow personnel to communicate.

The extra towers means increased coverage.

“Great help to our community and our response,” Sommers said, adding that with the state roads surrounding the county having towers, it makes it an ideal system. “We’re in the best place to use this system.”

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Sheriff Sam St. John said upgrading the radio system has been a goal of his.

According to Sommers, there currently is no reception for communication along the edge of the Suwannee River, making the radios useless for any accidents on the waterway.

Sommers also said that when SCFR EMTs transport patients to hospitals in Gainesville or Tallahassee, they have to use cell phones to contact dispatch with updates because the radios are unable to be used outside the county.

St. John, too, expressed concerns with the dead spots within the county.

“We didn’t take this lightly,” he said, adding an upgraded system has been one of his goals since taking office. “(Officers) may only have one time to call for help and if it doesn’t go through that one time, there’s a lot of safety issues there.

“(This new system) has proven to work on the handhelds. It’s a lifesaver issue for us.”

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Commissioner Don Hale called the new system a 'no-brainer.'

The commissioners also expressed their desire for the safety of the first responders.

“I’m also all for the safety of our community,” Don Hale said. “Sounds like this is a no-brainer.

The board was supportive of the change — with Chairman Ricky Gamble saying he had long been an advocate for the county moving to the state’s system — which had been planned. Both Suwannee County Fire Rescue and the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office had set aside $75,000 in the current year’s budget to help pay for a radio system upgrade.

The commissioners, though, did have questions, including the life span of the proposed radios as well as if the 15-year leasing option proposed was better than going with a shorter option of 10 years and saving $220,000 over the course of the lease. The board preferred moving forward with the shorter lease.

“I feel very comfortable with you paying for 15 years that this radio will still be ahead of the game 15 years down the road,” said Josh Franklin with Williams Communications, which provides and maintains the state’s system.

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