Lancaster County EMS concerned for safety after decision for police radio encryption

LANCASTER, Pa. -- Lancaster County EMS officials fear they need to be concerned for their own safety. That's after county commissioners decided to encrypt police radio calls.

As soon as November, when the public, media or emergency responders listen to a police scanner or radio in Lancaster County, they may hear muddled voices.

EMS officials are now asking county commissioners to exempt them from police radio encryption, but they are in support of encryption so the public and the media can't hear all the calls.

Darrell Fisher, the president of the Lancaster County EMS Council said, "What we feel is that EMS should not be put into the same umbrella as the public. We're out on the streets, we're on the forefront with the police department. Any large situation or any violent scene that requires an ambulance, we're there with them."

Lancaster Police Chief Keith Sadler said even though the radios for EMS would be encrypted, those emergency responders would still get updates from dispatchers.

Sadler said, "Our radio dispatch, the county dispatch in Lancaster County allows us to communicate with them and vice versa. So they don't necessarily have to be on the same band as we are."

Emergency responders said it takes more time for dispatch to communicate to them than to hear police calls. And that time is precious for first responders.

Fisher said, "So if they're on a scene that maybe we're traveling to and they update saying now the patient is violent or the scene is unsafe, we don't approach that scene. Where now those messages can be delayed seconds or even up to a minute at a time."

Sadler said it's an issue of where do you draw the line.

He said, "If we were to expand that to EMS and fire, there's still a risk that we don't necessarily know who's listening in."

Fisher said EMS needs to know as soon as possible if a situation they are responding to has become violent.

"So we're not looking to undo what the commissioners have voted to do. We support that. We want the officers to stay safe out in the public. But we're also hoping to keep our people safe in the county," he said.

Fisher said although he has brought the issue to commissioners, none of them have responded to his request yet.

The chief clerk with the commissioners said there was no discussion about changes to the encryption policy at the last county meeting.