March 27, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

Radios arent what they used to be.

The four new radios at the U.S. Forest Services Fire Control Center are computer driven, with several stations showing on a screen. A click of a mouse sends or receives a call.

David Quinn, manager of the fire center at the Union County Airport, said he believes the new radios increase the speed of communications. Employees can contact several areas at one time, in addition to calling individual locations.

The installation of new radios led to a center makeover, Quinn said during a tour Tuesday of the newly renovated center.

Four radios cover three zones: Burnt Powder, Grande Ronde and Wallowa. During the off-season, five people work at the center. The number of employees doubles during fire season, Quinn said.

The centers four radios were purchased as part of a package that included 250 mobile units, 300 hand-held units and eight or 10 mountain top radios. The cost of the entire package was about $1.5 million. Renovation cost an additional $34,000.

We replace radios about once every 10 years, said Nick Greear, fire manager for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

The airport also houses the Forest Services air tanker base, with two tankers. Construction on a new base is expected to begin during the next fiscal year, Greear said.