County communications manager honored at state, national level

Peter Loewenheim says he's just doing his job

August 21, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Peter "Pete" Loewenheim was chosen as Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year for Maryland by the Mid-Eastern Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and Public Safety Communications Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year for 2011 by APCO International. He has been the maintenance manager for Washington County Communications since 1986.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Peter “Pete” Loewenheim doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.

As Washington County Communications maintenance manager since 1986, Loewenheim said he and the three technicians on his staff are just doing their jobs.

When he learned in April that he was chosen as Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year for Maryland by the Mid-Eastern Chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, or APCO, he said he was stunned.

Then came the news that Loewenheim, 59, was selected as Public Safety Communications Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year for 2011 by APCO International, one of seven award recipients to be recognized at the annual conference in Philadelphia from Aug. 7 to 10.

APCO presents seven categories of annual awards to public safety communications personnel who demonstrate the highest levels of personal and professional conduct and performance in the line of duty, according to a press release.

“To me, this isn’t a competition to win. It’s something we do every day,” Loewenheim said. “It is nice to be recognized, but a lot of other people deserve credit.

“I’m incredibly honored to even be considered for this honor by my peers, especially because we’re a support system. It just doesn’t happen very often.”

Loewenheim praised the technicians on his staff.

“I have a lot of support. I want to make sure they get a tremendous amount of credit. They make the department look good,” he said.

Bardona Woods, director of communications for Washington County Emergency Communications, said she and her co-workers agreed that Loewenheim should be nominated for the award.

“My main reason was that since 2006, he had become project manager for the new radio system, which was a huge undertaking,” Woods said. “At the same time, we were also building a new 911 center and consolidating three dispatch agencies — personnel and equipment. It was the complexity of either project that made me believe no other person had undertaken such a project.”

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Montgomery County, Loewenheim as a 12- or 13-year-old built his own radio studio in the basement of his family home and operated a radio station that featured “local community stuff.”

He graduated in 1973 from the University of Maryland with a major in psychology and a minor in computer science/electronics. After college, he worked at a Charles Town, W.Va., radio station, then was offered a job at WQCM radio in Hagerstown, after the owner heard him on the radio.

Loewenheim worked at WQCM for six years as the chief engineer and morning deejay, under the name Pete Wilson. He left the morning position in 1980, although Loewenheim worked as chief engineer for the station until 2006, while working full time for the county.

He was hired for the technician’s job with the county’s Communications Maintenance Department in 1980 and six years later became its manager.

The job has changed as the needs of the county have changed. Loewenheim’s department is responsible for installing and maintaining the communications equipment for all county departments, the city of Hagerstown and county municipalities, including police, fire and emergency medical responders.

The staff also maintains communications equipment for all county departments that use two-way radio equipment, according to a news release from the Board of County Commissioners of Washington County.

Loewenheim is project manager for the county’s new Public Safety Communications System. The system should be complete by the end of this year, but is “a work in progress,” continually needing enhancing and upgrading, he said.

When he started with the county, there were two communications towers, which increased to five, before doubling to 10 to accommodate the new system. The department expanded from six to 125 base stations, and has overseen the technical consolidation of three of the four 911 dispatch centers — Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Fire and Rescue — into one center on Elliott Parkway.

He and his staff have all taken 10 courses, some online, to get trained on the new system.

Loewenheim and his staff take turns being on call.

“We’re totally accustomed to the phone ringing at 2 a.m. There were lots of hiccups with the new system,” he said.

Loewenheim said it would take years to explain the job he and his department do, which would include details of fighting off gnats, bees, spiders and stink bugs as they try to diagnose problems in shelters at the base of towers in the middle of the night.

Besides his paid job with the county, Loewenheim wears another hat in a volunteer capacity, as chief instructor pilot and standards and evaluation officer for the Maryland Civil Air Patrol. That involves a commitment to working with six cadets annually for the intensive 10-day Maryland Wing Solo School, which is held at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Loewenheim and his wife, Angie, who works for the Washington County Budget and Finance Department, have been married since 1983. They live in Hagerstown and have one daughter. He has two sons from a previous marriage and two grandchildren.

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