By Mary Jane Farmer

Published: Herald Democrat

The unannounced closure Monday of Advanced Communication’s paging service in Denison sent first responders across Fannin and Grayson counties searching for quick, affordable replacements. Volunteer fire departments across the counties rely on their pager systems, and according to the company’s Web site, so do hospitals from Paris to Gainesville.

There was no answer to Advanced Communications’ phones, nor any way to leave them a message, rendering them unavailable for comment.

Bells Fire Chief Tommy Carter said Grayson County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers conducted their nightly, 7 p.m. pages across Grayson County, and the systems were a go at that time. Suddenly, at 9 p.m., they went silent. There has not been any fire loss of property there yet, he said.

In Trenton, the complete loss to fire of one house Monday night is believed to be attributable to the lack of communications, said Trenton Fire Chief C.J. Fillingham.

“My opinion is we would have saved the house had we been able to get to it in time,” Fillingham said. Contacting the volunteer firefighters the old-fashioned way, via telephone, added an additional 10 minutes response time to the call, which otherwise would have been about seven minutes from Trenton’s fire station to the house on County Road 4900. That extra time allowed flames to climb into the attic, where it spread rapidly throughout the house.

“Fortunately, no lives were lost, but it made us sick that we lost the home,” Fillingham said. He said dispatchers sent the call out through the paging system, which was unserviceable, unbeknownst to anyone. Without receiving response, dispatch called the fire department on a telephone and, in turn, Fillingham said, cell phones were used to bring in mutual aid from Randolph, Whitewright, Ector, and Bailey fire departments.

The fire is considered accidental. Fillingham said one resident apparently was taking a bath with a candle lighted in the room. When another resident opened the door, the flame received a burst of oxygen and flared up. Two teenagers were taken by private vehicle to an emergency room with injuries believed to be minor.

“The problem was, without any kind of notice or warning (from the paging system), we were left in the dark,” Fillingham added. “It put us in a bind over here.”

Carter said that the Bells Fire Department has worked out a temporary plan to expedite response time should it get a 911 call. “Some of our volunteers are dispatchers only,” Carter said. They have divided up the names and phone numbers of volunteers and each has an assigned amount of phone calls to be made.

“We are fortunate because there is a company providing interim service for the volunteer fire departments in Fannin County,” Fillingham said, adding that a Lewisville-based messaging company has bent over backwards in hastily getting the Fannin County volunteer fire departments set up.

Leonard first responders had already gone over to this new messaging service successfully, he said, because of its better rates and now it has shown to be “pretty secure,” Fillingham said.

Purchasing new pager or phone systems is an expensive item for a volunteer department and that, too, has put the Fannin County agencies in a tough situation.

Grayson County Sheriff’s Office 1st Lt. David Hawley, who supervises the agency’s dispatch system, said he has come

up with a dead end after leaving messages for people he’s identified as the ones who are now to have been providing paging air space. None of his calls have been returned.

“It’s a hard time for everybody right now,” Carter said, referring to the current economics as they relate to the critical need for first-class communications when it comes to first responders.

Fannin County Sheriff Kenneth Moore commended the way first response agencies have stepped up to the plate. “Everybody involved got right on the ball,” he said.

In Grayson County, dispatch was overheard sending out test pages to several fire departments Wednesday afternoon, earlier than its routine 7 p.m. pages. Those agencies responded that the test pages were received, indicating that a system is being put in place. However, information on that new system hasn’t yet been provided.

Team American Messaging