The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 3, 2012

Fire departments say they will participate in radio system upgrade

By Carra Higgins
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Delayed returns of memorandums of understanding, not lack of interest, has slowed the process of Mabscott and Bradley-Prosperity fire departments becoming an immediate participant a Homeland Security grant to upgrade emergency communications.

During Tuesday’s Raleigh County Commission meeting, Rhodell Fire Chief Mike Holshouser told commissioners that the $965,000 grant, approved by the Department of Homeland Security through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would help provide the new digital radios to the county fire departments, but the Mabscott and Bradley-Prosperity departments had not shown interest in participating.

Holshouser also told commissioners that the Emergency Operations Center would need approximately $2,000 from the commission in order to participate in the upgrades.

Mabscott Fire Chief Daryl Bailey says his department will participate in the grant and he plans to purchase nine of the Motorola radios — five mobile and four portable units. However, because he has not received and returned the memorandum to Holshouser or submitted a plan stating exactly how his department will use the radios, it may have appeared as though Mabscott will not receive new digital radios through the grant.

When Bailey decides exactly how his department will use the new digital radios, he said will submit the action plan and be an official participant in the grant.

Bradley-Prosperity Assistant Fire Chief Bobby Palmer told The Register-Herald that his department has every intention of participating in the grant.

Palmer said Wednesday that the memorandum was sent to Holhouser “a couple days ago” and was not sure if it had been received before the commission meeting.

Palmer said he did not know why it was said that the Bradley-Prosperity did not seem interested in the grant.

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Although the Mabscott will be a participant in the grant, Bailey added that he is not without concerns about the new radios.

Currently, it is planned that the radios will be used as secondary form of communication, not the primary, Bailey said. Also, the cost of the new radios, even with the grant and levy funding, is still substantial. Bailey said his crew is in need of more pressing equipment related to safety, such as air packs.

The new digital radios have advantages and disadvantages, Bailey said. In the event of an emergency, the digital radios will enable fire departments to communicate statewide, which could be helpful during disasters, such as flooding.

But Bailey also explained that the digital radios do not have toning capabilities and firefighters would need to listen to all scanner traffic in order to hear a call if they were to use the radios full-time.

He also said there have been some concerns nationwide about the radios being difficult to use, for example, being able to hear communications in loud environments. Furthermore, there is not a timeline for the 911 center to switch its communication to digital, Bailey said.

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County Commissioner Dave Tolliver said that he spoke to Bailey Tuesday after the meeting and it was then that he understood why it seemed as though Mabscott would not participate in the grant.

He added that he thinks some of the information provided about the Mabscott and Bradley-Prosperity fire departments the during the meeting had been “misconstrued.”

Tolliver explained that the grant is in its “infancy” stages and over the next two weeks, emergency leaders and stakeholders will meet in order further develop the plans to move the modern, digital communication plans forward.

The grant and all memorandums of understanding between the departments must be finished by February, Tolliver said. Before that time, there will be discussions about the timeline for when the full upgrade of the system from analog to digital will occur.

“Once everyone gets on the same page, it will be a great asset,” Tolliver said of the equipment upgrades.

Tolliver also explained that he spoke to those within the EOC Wednesday and learned that it will not need $2,000 to complete equipment upgrades, as had been discussed in the commission meeting. He said the EOC is currently in the process of using approximately $130,000 to enhance communication towers and install new lines.

“They’re spending their money wisely,” Tolliver said.

The required 20 percent grant match to the departments will be paid through the fire levy funds. Tolliver said it is too early to know exactly how much the radios will cost each department and will have a better idea of the money that could be involved after more information is received.

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