COLUMBIA COUNTY, GEORGIA – A new radio system is going to save Columbia County taxpayers lots of money.

The upgrade will not only help firefighters save lives, but in a pinch it could save their own lives. WJBF News Channel 6’s Stefany Bornman reports on the new technology Columbia County Fire Rescue began using this week.

If you paid sales tax in Columbia County this is that money at work, but more than that the Fire Chief tells WJBF News Channel 6 it’s useful in large-scale fires like the deadly Marshall Square fire last summer.

A new radio system is going to save Columbia County taxpayers lots of money.

For years Columbia County Fire Rescue was using sub-standard radios. In several parts of the county the dead spots made it hard to communicate among each other and with other first responders.

“We had trouble especially going into some buildings, large metal buildings, big concrete buildings and things like that. We always had issues with getting communication or radio traffic out.” Columbia County Special Operations Chief Danny Kuhlmann told WJBF News Channel 6.

But that’s no longer the case. This week the department upgraded to state-of-the-art radios, the same ones the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office uses.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office made the switch just before the 2014 ice storm and those radios proved their true value almost immediately. “We lost cell phone service. We lost computer. We lost the electricity in the building. We were on backup generators, but the one thing that was left standing was that new radio system that we were on it was flawless,” said Captain Andy Shead with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

During catastrophes, like the deadly Marshall Square fire the new radios would have been very useful. “This would have definitely helped because we could have separated and had more channels to operate on,” said Kuhlmann.

“In addition to the just the structure fire itself. You had evacuations taking place of all of the residents. You had a lot of unsafe areas where bricks were falling and parts of the building were falling. You had the whole traffic congestion area and trying to detour traffic away from the area. So it would have definitely made a difference had we been on the same system that day.” Captain Shead told WJBF News Channel 6.

Communication is a big part of how fire departments are graded and the built-in safe fails will help Fire Rescue earn a better rating. “Then it saves the homeowners and the property tax people money on their insurance rate,” Kuhlmann said.

County leaders hope all county departments will be upgraded to the new radios soon. That would also allow county workers to communicate with workers in other counties.