STAMFORD, Vt. – Emergency and personal broadband communications in Southern Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts just got a lot better thanks to a partnership between three small non-profit organizations and a local wind farm.
The partnership between the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative, the Stamford Volunteer Fire Company, North Adams (Mass.) Ambulance Service and Iberdrola Renewables was born back in April when SVBC President Robert Briggs approached Iberdrola about installing two antennas on its meteorological tower on Bakke Mountain in Florida, Mass.
Iberdrola operates Hoosac Wind, a 20-turbine energy project in Florida and Monroe.
“We had a need to improve our broadband service and their location on top of the mountain was the best location for our equipment,” explained Briggs. “When I approached Iberdrola Renewables, I wasn’t sure how far it would go but they were really receptive to working with us and even more open to helping to improve public safety communications.”
For both the ambulance service and Fire Department, it was a question of increasing their radio communication service area.
John Meaney, manager of the North Adams Ambulance, explained, “We serve the towns of Readsboro, Vt. and Monroe, Mass., and we had no radio communications in Readsboro and only partial coverage in Monroe.”
It was much the same for the Stamford Fire Company.
“Once our trucks crossed over Dutch Hill into Readsboro, we lost all communications back to Stamford and to our dispatcher,” said Fire Chief Paul Ethier.
This transmitting location will help SVBC meet its founding mission statement made in 2005: “To provide high speed low-cost broadband Internet connections to the residents of Stamford.”
Previous to this transmission connection, Internet collaborative has had a difficult time reaching some of the outer areas of town. It recently had been asked by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to consider expanding to underserved areas of Readsboro and Halifax and now SVBC might be able to help those towns out.
The partnership between SVBC, the ambulance and the fire company was formed to share the installation costs. The groups split the costs of a weatherproof box to mount the electronics, the installation of antennas by a certified tower climber, and all other related costs.
“We did a lot of the ground work ourselves to save as much money as possible,” said Ethier.
The VHF radio repeater installed by the Stamford Fire Company and the ambulance has exceeded expectations.
“It’s working better than we had hoped,” said Meaney. “We can now communicate anywhere in Readsboro or Monroe back to our dispatcher. We even have the ability to talk from one truck in Readsboro to another truck at Berkshire Medical Center’s emergency room in Pittsfield (Mass.).”
Ethier echoed many of the same sentiments.
“We have 100 percent portable radio to portable radio coverage between Stamford and North Adams and essentially have mobile radio coverage from Pittsfield to Bennington and from Bennington over to Wilmington, and down the Deerfield Valley to Greenfield, Mass.,” Ethier said. “It’s a huge service area. It’s really a game changer for the fire company and the ambulance.”
The fire company and ambulance each own 50 percent of the VHF equipment, while the fire company holds the Federal Communications Commission license.
“Public safety is our number one priority at every single wind farm and solar plant that we operate,” said Nate LeBlanc, the plant manager at Hoosac Wind. “When the opportunity presented itself to upgrade these critical local institutions’ capabilities, we were glad to help. We take our role as a responsible business partner and a good neighbor very seriously, and we’re proud to have worked with the talented teams at these nonprofits.”
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