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Communication system prevents chaos, saves lives in St. Johns

by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:


ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Had it not been for a relatively new and sophisticated communications system, the string of arson in St. Augustine could have destroyed more homes. That's according to the St. Augustine fire chief and the St. Johns County fire chief, the board of county commissioners agreed.

During the St. Johns County Commission meeting Tuesday, St. Augustine Fire Chief JC Costeira and St. Johns County Fire and Rescue Chief Carl Shank played clips of firefighters' radio transmissions the morning of June 23. 

Four fires broke out that morning just minutes and blocks a part, spreading crews thin. But Costeira said his crews never had a problem with communication. 

"The new 800 [MHz] system with the multiple tact channels is a definite asset to us being able to do our job," said Costeira.  

The radio system is a nearly $30 million investment by the county. Shank said the recent string of fires put the system to the test. 

"It's been one of the most labor intensive as far as multiple emergencies happening all at once of this magnitude and so we really got to try the system and it functions flawlessly," said Shank. 

According to Shank, the system was implemented a little more than a year ago. Each firefighter has a microphone built into their mask and on their bodies they have radios that communicate directly with dispatch and commanders outside of the structures. Emergency management, mosquito control, and the health department use the same system. 

Costeira said the string of fires caused by arson is proof the county made the right investment. 

"It's very important. It saves lives every day it makes our job not necessarily easier but it's what we need to perform," said Costeira. 

The arson investigation is still active. Costeira said there are four state fire marshals working with the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents, one local fire marshal and the St. Augustine Police Department to catch the person responsible.