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Jim Hoffer
Web produced by Jennifer Matarese, Eyewitness News

NEW YORK (WABC) — Military radios are the first line of defense protecting the military elite, our future Army officers, should anything go wrong, anywhere on the sprawling campus of West Point Military Academy.

Like this past winter, when two cadets got stranded on a mountain ledge or when a fire ripped through officer housing a few years ago, this digital radio system is what federal fire and rescue crews rely on to communicate.

But there’s a problem: the radios don’t work.

As a mayday test shows, a call for help or critical instructions to firefighters can be hard to hear.

“Being in a burning building and being called out of a building, it’s serious, and the guys rely on this radio system and it’s not functioning,” said Paul Cheski, President of West Point Firefighters Union.

Ever since its installation 5 years ago, the digital radio system has become so unreliable that West Point firefighters have at times given up and abandoned their use.

“Communication was terrible. There was times we had to use personal cell phones to communicate with either command or dispatch to make sure all our, we were coordinating tactical objectives correctly,” said Arthur Lanzer, a West Point Firefighter.

West Point declined an on-camera interview, but in a statement says they are working on solutions to the radio problems and have been since 2008.

A spokesperson also says this is a complex issue and they’ve reached out to several military agencies to try solving it.

But Eyewitness News’ investigation has discovered West Point isn’t the only elite military academy plagued by faulty emergency radios.

Eyewitness News’ investigation brought us to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where federal fire fighters say the same problems with garbled digital radios put them and the Naval cadets at risk.

“We rely on our radios as much as we can, but we often find the need to send a runner, sometimes that runner goes all the way back to the command post, sometimes they just go to an exterior of the building, where they can receive a signal and transmit,” said Gregg Russell, National Capitol Firefighters.

Eyewitness News has learned this digital radio system is being used at military installations all over the country. A review of government documents show repeated failures occur daily.

The frustration among first responders fill the pages: One writes, “Sooner or later somebody is going to be seriously injured or maybe even killed.”

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