The Los Lunas fire and police departments implemented some much needed system upgrades to their communication channels last month, improving emergency response in the village.

“This is the first time in my 23 years that we’ve been actually upgrading the entire system as a whole,” said Los Lunas Fire Chief John Gabaldon told the News-Bulletin, adding the system, however, did have several smaller upgrades.

John Gabaldon
Los Lunas Fire Chief

He presented the need for system upgrades to the Los Lunas Village Council last September, saying their VHF system was outdated and advocated for a switch to a 700 MHz band.

Gabaldon said the upgrades were necessary to bring them into compliance with Federal Communication Commission regulations regarding public safety and first responder communications.

According to the fire chief, the new public safety communications allows for more clarity in calls and also expands the area in which they can receive calls.

“Overall, we’ve actually been able to reduce the number of, what we call, dead zones substantially and as far as communications,” he said, “we’ve been able to communicate amongst ourselves a lot better because of the clarity of the radios.”

The village council approved just more than $1.5 million — about $1 million of which went to the police department — purchasing 43 portable and 50 mobile units for the police department, as well as 22 portable and 21 mobile units for the fire department. A portable unit is small enough to be carried on a single person, while a mobile is made for their vehicles.

The police began using the 700 MHz system in December while the fire department deployed the new communication gadgets in mid-January.

“As it stands right now, we’re happier than heck with them,” Gabaldon said. “We’re still getting used to them; we are trying to work out the kinks. The kinks are more operational stuff. We’re trying to figure out how to function with them because there are so many more capabilities.”

Gabaldon added there was some initial concern about inter-agency communications since other first responders in the county are still operating on VHF bands, but all of new the portable devices are equipped with a multi-band function — able to tune into VHF and UHF, WiFi and 700MHz channels.

The Valencia Regional Emergency Communication Center (dispatch) is also able to patch agencies through to each other if they are operating on different channels.

Gabaldon gave the example that if Los Lunas fire is responding to a call at the Waste Management transfer station— about 30 miles west of Los Lunas on N.M. 6, a previous dead spot for public safety communications — if there was a fire or another large emergency, dispatch would be able to patch another agency through to them to enlist their assistance.

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.