Fire District 5 looks for technology upgrade

TALENT — Plans to overhaul Jackson County Fire District 5’s website have been put on hold after new Chief Charles Hanley reviewed the district's communications structure and information technology and determined a need for major upgrades in those areas first.

“We needed to fix that. Once that is done, then we will address the website,” said Hanley.

Hanley determined that the internet was limited to a residential router, there was no server or cloud storage, no upgraded phone support, a lack of uniform security measures, and the individual stations were not part of either local or wide-area networks.

As a result, such things as training and equipment maintenance records were not on a common system and needed to be transferred from one computer to another to allow other parties to view information. A hardware failure at any one of three key computers would halt administrative staff’s ability to function effectively, Hanley's report stated.

“With the caveat that I was new to the board, I was surprised,” board Chairwoman Vicki Purslow said of Hanley’s report. “What I did know was that the email system that we had was not working very well.”

The effort to build a new website was prompted by the board’s desire to increase transparency to the public, starting with the ability to find meeting minutes readily, said Purslow.

A lease/purchase contract with Tekmanagement of Medford for the upgrades was approved in October.

Tekmanagement will receive $3,404 monthly, which includes a $663 payment for one-time IT project investment, over 60 months. The district will also get recurring support, Office 35 subscriptions, hardware rental and phone support. The $35,000 budgeted for the website update will cover costs for the year.

“There will be all the things that are typical in a modern office, whether it’s in the business or public sector,” said Hanley. “From a customer service standpoint, if there was a (public records) request, we had to go into the attic and start looking in boxes.”

The current phone system was determined to be out of date with no replacement parts available. A copper land-line system will be added to supply redundancy.

“If the (primary phone) system goes down, there is a backup, so we are in a better situation,” said Hanley.

Hanley began working in late May after he was hired to replace former Chief Darin Welburn, who was terminated by the board in October 2016. Hanley previously was chief of California’s Rodeo Hercules Fire District and had 34 years of firefighting experience in the state.

In addition to better communication within the department and with its customers, the district is looking at ways to improve inconsistent emergency radio communications. Problems include poor performance due to topographical features, dropped calls and loss of connections. All emergency services districts in the Rogue Valley face those problems and they are looking at ways to resolve the issues jointly, said Hanley.

“We get dropped communication,” said Hanley. “When we have a fire and simultaneously a medical or rescue issue, it steps on us and we can’t connect back.”

About 20 new towers are needed to improve communications, the chief said. He estimated that could cost as much as $20 million for infrastructure.

“I’m hopeful that at least with having some discussion started we can get on that,” said Purslow. “That’s a real safety issue for our crews.”

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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