MONTAGUE – Muskegon County Central Dispatch and all affiliated emergency services are getting an upgrade.

The county is currently in the process of upgrading their communication equipment to an 800-megahertz (MHz) bandwidth. Five new communication towers are currently being erected across the county, and the Montague Fire District Authority, 5085 Wilcox Rd., is a site for one of these towers.

“They have to put up a series of towers. It’s a state system, 800 MHz, it’s what the state police and most of the counties use now,” said fire chief Ron Anderson.

Prior to the upgrade emergency services within Muskegon County used a high frequency system that made it difficult to communicate outside of the county. Anderson said Muskegon is the last county in the state to switch over to the 800 MHz frequency.

The upgrade to the communication equipment is being paid for through surcharge on landlines, cell phones and VoIP services approved by voters back in 2019. The surcharge was originally proposed in a 2018 election – but did not pass.

Some of the issues related to the old equipment included communication dead zones within the county, and the inability to communicate with other emergency service agencies outside the county.

Anderson said the equipment that was being used by the county was so old that it was no longer being manufactured. Central Dispatch and Muskegon County’s emergency services would have to buy replacement equipment and parts off of websites like eBay.

In addition to the radio tower being installed on their property, the Montague Area Fire District Authority will be receiving new Motorola radios and fiber optic internet. Both of these additional upgrades are also being paid for by the surcharge that was passed in 2019.

“We had fiber optic before, but when we moved our station [back in 2009], it would have cost us $66,000 to run fiber up to the station. As part of this overall plan we will have fiber optic here, and will have better connectivity to [central] dispatch.

And unlike other communications towers, this new tower is for emergency services only, Anderson said it will not be used by cell phone companies and other such services. Unfortunately, it will likely not be operational until the Spring of 2021.

“We just hope and pray that the high band system stays operational until this one come online. It is a maintenance nightmare keeping the old system going,” said Anderson.

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