When Oak Bay firefighters stand on Beach Drive and try to communicate with colleagues just 90 metres below the Oak Bay Beach Hotel on Satellite Drive they can’t do so using a multi-milion dollar regional radio system. Instead they use walkie talkies.
“It’s so crazy with the system that you can be on the fourth floor of a building and looking at the engine and they can’t hear us,” Fire Chief Gerry Adam said.
Although Adam said the Capital Region Emergency Service Telecommunications radio system works 99 per cent of the time for fire department platoons when out in the field, but it doesn’t transmit well through concrete and steel buildings. Firefighters switch to hand-held two-way radio systems, essentially walkie-talkies, when they have to go into buildings.
CREST is the company contracted by the Capital Regional District to provide communication services to police, fire, RCMP, and B.C. Transit in the region. General manager Gord Horth admits there have been challenges in providing error-free transmissions throughout the region, but upgrades such as a proposed repeater station on top of the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel will help.
“Radio waves don’t readily go through buildings nor mountains or hills,” Horth said.
The company is hoping to install five repeater stations around the region this year – in Colwood, Saanich, East Sooke, Oak Bay and on Salt Spring Island. The stations will boost signals for emergency personnel in the field back to transmitter sites.
The antenna at the hotel would be visible about 2.5 to 3.5 metres above the building, on the southeast end of the roof. The station’s computer equipment would be housed in a separate 48 square foot room.
Hotel owner Kevin Walker has applied for a municipal variance to utilize the attic space. A public hearing is required as part of the process. CREST will rent the space from the hotel.
The repeater stations are expected to cost between $100,000 and $150,000 each.
Walker said he is accommodating the station because “it seems the right thing to improve coverage for our hotel and for the entire area.”
Victoria police are less enthusiastic. Officers there often carry hand-held radios or cellphones because of concerns over CREST call failures over the past eight years.
Spokesperson Sgt. Grant Hamilton said he didn’t believe adding more towers would remedy the problem.
But Oak Bay’s fire chief is pleased to hear a new Beach Drive station may go ahead.
“Any enhancement is a benefit – it can only get better,” Adam said.