Grant enables FDs to go digital

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, November 17, 2012

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A federal grant totaling almost $900,000 will enable local fire departments to buy new radio equipment and be compatible with a new countywide radio system expected to be in place early next year.

The $888,482 grant includes $710,785.60 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Program and $177,696.40 from Wise County, a cost-share required by the grant.

Greenwood/Slidell Fire Chief Adam North, who applied for the grant, said federal money covers 80 percent of the grant, but it was up to the departments to pay the 20 percent.

“That’s where the county stepped up to give that $177,000, which was a huge relief,” North said. “Things are already tight as it is … It’s not the old-school volunteer fire department anymore. Even though we’re volunteer, we still have to abide by certain rules and regulations.

“It’s critical that we have the essential equipment to do the basic job, and for years we’ve gone without that equipment. Now we’re getting that equipment and moving forward to do that job safely.”

North said the money will be split between the county’s 17 departments and will be used to buy 14 base stations, 90 mobile radios and 280 hand-held radios.

North said a handful of departments had already updated their equipment, but they would still receive a portion of the grant money. It would just be used for other projects.

“The whole purpose of this grant was to get everyone in the county on the same page, so everyone in the county has the exact same radio and same channel … so when they get on scene they can talk and communicate on one channel.

“The days of a string and a can are hopefully over for us. We’ll have a digital radio that will actually function properly.”

County commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the Greenwood/Slidell Fire Department at their regular meeting Tuesday to allow for the distribution of funds.

Sheriff David Walker told commissioners the county’s $498,000 reimbursable radio grant from the North Central Texas Council of Governments was extended to Dec. 24. He explained that they are waiting to finalize two tower contracts at which time the equipment can be installed and the county can apply for reimbursement. He’s hoping this will happen the last week of November or the beginning of December.

The grant required the county to purchase the equipment and install it before distributing reimbursement.

Walker also told commissioners that frequencies are being finalized this week, and he anticipates the system will be “up and running” by February 2013. They will broadcast in digital and analog for a while to give all agencies time to ugrade remaining equipment.

The new system will ensure the county is in compliance with federal requirements to be narrowband by 2013. Purchase of the $1.4 million system, designed and installed by EFJohnson Technologies of Irving, was approved in March 2011.

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