St. Helena Parish fire departments and St. Helena Office of Emergency Preparedness representatives met April 10 with Motorola representative Vaughn Bourgeois at the Police Jury building to discuss the options on replacing the radio equipment that malfunctioned after renovations began last month at the St. Helena Parish Jail.

The equipment malfunction has resulted in emergency dispatchers’ inability to page or contact each individual fire department, said Rita Allen, the director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness and North Helena volunteer fire chief.

Firefighters have to monitor the radio transmissions for information on any incidents that are reported to the 911 call center, which is in Amite, and relayed to the sheriff’s dispatch office in Greensburg, she said.

Allen said Bourgeois was the representative that worked on the original radio grant 10 years ago, which aided in purchasing the radios and dispatch equipment used by the fire departments.

Allen said the group decided to purchase an encoder to help replace one component of the broken system until funding can be secured to purchase and upgrade the equipment, which notifies the fire departments of an incident.

Allen estimated it will cost $500,000 to update the equipment for all fire departments.

“The dispatch services that are supplied by the Sheriff’s Office is a vital link in the response of the local volunteer fire departments and, without the timely dispatch of emergency personnel, incidents would take longer to respond to and control,” Allen said. “That could also affect the rating of each department and the residents’ insurance coverage in the long run.”

Allen said the equipment issue will be shortterm, with departments working to make the necessary repairs and upgrades.

The mostly all-volunteer firefighting force relies on the services provided by the Sheriff’s Office, Allen said.

St. Helena has eight fire departments with one fire district, Fire District 4, being a paid department.

The town of Greensburg and the village of Montpelier fire departments are operated through town revenues.

The other five departments operate through millage revenues collected and donations, he said.

The OEP director said residents should continue to report emergencies to 911.

“The new encoder should be installed once it is received in the next week,” said Allen.