"At this point we do not know how many new pagers we will need," Dover said. "We are going from department to department taking inventory. We may have to purchase 100 pagers or we may only need 50," Dover said. "We just don't know at this point."
At Long Creek Volunteer Fire and Rescue, for example, only six of the department's 23 firefighters have pagers that will work under under the new frequency.
Dover said he was given a ballpark estimate of about $4,700 to purchase 10 pagers, or about $470 per pager.
At issue is a Federal Communications Commission mandate that all law enforcement and public safety agencies operate radios and pagers on a narrow bandwidth to eliminate congestion on VHF and UHF channels.
In order to comply with the mandate, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors approved last year the purchase of 350 handheld radios and 70 mobile radios.
A sales representative said the new radios would have pager capabilities that would eliminate the need for firefighters to carry both a radio and a pager, as they had done in the past, Dover said.
But the radios only beep once to alert firefighters that their station has a call, and the volume is very low, Dover said. Pagers, on the other hand beep five or six times very loudly -- enough to wake a person from a sound sleep.
"We went from a system where the pagers would put you up on the ceiling when they went off to one with a very low volume," Dover said.
Also, most of the volunteer firefighters work full time jobs and carrying a pager is more convenient than carrying a radio while at work or out in the public.
Like the radios, the pagers must operate on a narrow band frequency, which means older model pagers that do not have that capability will have to be replaced.
Lauderdale County Fire Services officials are in the process of converting newer pagers compatible with the narrower band width on a department by department basis.
Some firefighters with older model pagers said they were told Monday that their old pagers would no longer work as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.
"That is 100 percent incorrect," Dover said Tuesday morning.
Dover said up until Dec. 31, calls will be dispatched out on both the narrow and broad bandwidths, so both the newer and older pagers will continue to work.
Although not as reliable as a pager, text messages are automatically dispatched to volunteer firefighters' cell phones as a backup, Dover said.
"We will continue to respond to calls and firefighters will continue to be notified when there is a fire call," Dover said. "There will be no lapse in coverage at this time."
Gary Newell, a Russell Fire and Rescue firefighter and the department's former chief, said he already carries a work cell phone and a private cell phone around with him. He said he can't carry a radio around all the time as well.
Newell said he relies on text messages to get fire alerts, but that does not work as well as the paging system in place before the new radios were purchased.
"We definitely need to get back to the paging system," Newell said.
Jill Walsh, a Long Creek Volunteer Fire and Rescue firefighter and the department's secretary, agreed.
"The general public needs to pay attention to this issue and to support their volunteer fire departments," Walsh said.
Once it is known how many pagers are needed, Dover said he will bring a purchase request before the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors.
Written by Meridian Star