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Officials: Thieves fooled with radios, put public in danger
By: Maria Miller
EBENSBURG, Pa. -- It's been a little over a week since thieves targeted two Cambria County fire departments and stole radios and pagers. On Tuesday, officials released transmissions made over the stolen equipment shortly after.
Officials said they hope the transmissions will help to identify suspects and also highlight the dangers of intercepting police and fire communications.
The equipment was stolen from the Summerhill and South Fork fire departments.
At first, it's a few seconds of static that might not mean anything to most, but to 911 dispatchers and emergency personnel, it's a few important seconds that could mean the difference between responding to a call and catching a suspect or saving someone's life.
"It puts the dispatchers on the edge of their seat," said Robbin Melnyk, deputy director of the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services. "They're thinking that it's an officer who needs assistance or someone in trouble that can't speak or can't transmit the complete message."
"It could be the difference in receiving good information and not getting a subject information to a police officer who may get injured not knowing that information if they're joking around on the system," said Trooper Robert Kunsman of the Ebensburg state police barracks.
The static is one of many transmissions that Cambria County emergency dispatchers said they picked up last week, one day after burglars broke into the fire departments, stealing portable radios and pagers.
"The radios have an identifier loaded with them depending on how they're programmed, so the identifier had indicated it was one of South Forks' radios which was where the thefts were," Melnyk said.
After dispatchers quickly traced the transmissions, they recorded them:
Radio : "Oh yeah, (expletive.)"
Dispatcher : "Last unit calling Cambria..."
Radio : (Rambling... Singing... Tapping on radio...)
In the audio, people can be heard swearing, making silly noises, even singing, but it's not a joke to emergency responders. It's a serious offense.
"It could be your house that officers are needed to respond to and if we're not able to get that message out because of someone maliciously playing with a radio, that's jeopardy your safety as well as anyone else in the county at that time," Melnyk said.
The FCC has been in the area using special equipment that can pinpoint where those transmissions are coming from. If found, those involved could be facing serious charges.
In the meantime Cambria County Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest.