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Board, fire company discuss open burning


Special to The Press

At their March 18 in-person meeting, Heidelberg supervisors and Germansville Fire Chief Jay Scheffler discussed implementation of burn bans and a proposed upgrade to the township’s radio systems.

Scheffler said the fire company had again returned to Heidelberg Heights to advise residents about burning violations and issues, and he suggested the township look at the overall issue of open burning.”

“A couple people there are going to ruin it for everybody,” he said.

Emergency Management Coordinator and Zoning Officer Dawn Didra said there was talk about addressing open burning safety issues, making note of recent Red Flag warnings from the National Weather Service, which signal increased risk of fire danger due to warm temperatures, low humidity and stronger winds, as well as the burning violations mentioned by Scheffler.

Upon review of the township’s ordinance, she said, there was a provision for the township to ban burning due to extreme weather.

The information would need to be posted at the township building and fire company during “extreme weather” events which trigger a burn ban.

The notice states burn bands can be enacted at any time due to drought or other weather-related events.

In addition, it states Heidelberg will enact burn bans every time a Fire Danger Weather-Related Warning is issued for the area by the NWS including a Fire Weather Watch, Enhanced Threats for Fire Spread or Red Flag Warning, and that the burn ban applies to all open fires.

Information on burning regulations can be found in the township’s burn ordinance, and residents can find out if a burn ban is in effect by contacting the Lehigh County 911 Center’s nonemergency number at 610-437-5252 or by calling the township office at 610-767-9297 during normal business hours.

Later in the meeting Scheffler mentioned creating a common radio communication channel between the township and fire company, noting the topic had been broached previously.

Scheffler said cellphone communication may be inadequate for coordinating during a disaster or emergency situation, and proposed a radio link instead.

George Ballein of ECCO Communications was in attendance to present additional technical information and possible solutions to the matter.

Ballein said the township currently uses low-band radios, which he said are no longer being produced by manufacturers, while the fire company uses very high frequency, analogue equipment.

He said for the most part, coverage in rural areas of Lehigh County, such as in Heidelberg or Lynn Township are “basically line of sight” with some areas seeing more spotty reception.

“What Jay is asking is to get a mutual, probably VHF, frequency the fire company could use, and the township would in turn use, but they would require getting all new radios to start with,” Ballein said.

He said a bigger issue would be getting the proper licensing from the Federal Communications Commission, noting the VHF spectrum in Lehigh County is highly congested, and coordinators in the area are reluctant to give up a frequency due to this congestion.

Ballein said the township could get a repeater to retransmit a signal longer distances or digital options to get a frequency for communication, but noted there are several issues with both approaches.

He also made note of interoperability issues between radios used by different counties’ fire departments.

Board Chairman Steve Bachman said the township would likely need to wait on direction to come down from the county and inquired about possible system costs.

Board members and Ballein discussed the possibility to subscribe or pay fees to access existing repeaters, cellular services or antennae which have already been established.

Didra asked Ballein to put together some cost estimates and proposals for the board.

She said a common township and fire company communication network was worth looking into.

Ballein said he would be willing to provide the board with the requested figures.

The board agreed to look deeper into potentially tapping into the existing communication tower systems as well.