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Fire department awarded grant for radio upgrades

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt announced on June 29 that nine Missouri fire departments would be receiving a combined $1,066,139 in grant funding through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program. The program is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration.

The Leadwood Fire Protection District is among the departments receiving funds through the program, being awarded just over $164,000 to go toward a new radio system for the department.

Chief Kevin Lewis said the grant was originally applied for in November of 2016 to get ahead of possible required changes to department radio frequencies.

He said the applying departments had to show their need for the funding, earning ‘points’ toward the award for monetary need, average call load and mutual aid responses.

“It was mainly based on our budgeted money versus call load,” Lewis said. “There’s several factors involved. For instance, this grant is all for radios. That was the focus of the actual grant.”

“The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is kind of coming down on the band that we actually use now, and they’re saying that they’re going to have to narrow the frequency down. There’s no timeline for that yet, but at that time we’ll have to change frequency.”

Lewis said the frequency change means more than just turning a dial on their radios, but requires an entirely new system employing multi-band radios, which are much more expensive than the radios the department currently uses.

“We’re just trying to prepare for the future changes so we don’t have to buy radios when the time comes,” Lewis explained. “Because these radios are very expensive. The radios we have now, they range from $300 to $800.

“These new radios, for firefighting purposes, you’re looking at $2,000 to $4,500 per radio. There’s no way we could afford that kind of a radio swap with the amount of radios we have.”

The awarded $164,000 is actually lower than the amount the Leadwood Fire Protection District applied for, but Lewis said the amount should still cover the department’s needs if the money is spent wisely during the bidding process.

The money will not only supply the department with several types of new radios but will also include batteries, cases and accessories such as lapel microphones.

Lewis said the Leadwood department is on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of a yearly budget when compared to other St. Francois County departments, but are climbing after a tax levy was successfully passed in November.

“We have mobile radios and we have actual handheld radios for entry firefighters and officers,” Lewis said. “After everything’s paid for in a year, we have a $4,000 to $6,000 budget for equipment purchases.

So whenever you figure that amount of radios up versus the amount that we have budgeted for actual equipment replacement, it would take years for us to get that kind of money accumulated to accommodate the whole radio swap.”

In addition to budgetary need, the Leadwood Fire Protection District was able to exhibit how the radio upgrade would benefit nearby departments as well as their own.

“On the competitive grant side, they want to see everybody helping each other,” Lewis said. “And that’s additional ‘points’ you get with the grant, when you can say, ‘Yes, we do run mutual aid. And yes, this grant can help out other departments by additional equipment or manpower.”

“Jefferson County has already changed over to that new system, called an 800 MHz system,” Lewis added. “And if we go on a mutual aid call to say, the DeSoto Rural area, we can get on their frequency now, versus them changing to ours.”

“Right now, DeSoto Rural can change to us, because they have that type of radio but we cannot change to them,” he said. “On a large-scale incident, tankers do come from DeSoto Rural area and Jefferson County areas.”

While the new radio systems are not a necessity yet, Lewis said he wants to get his department one step ahead so it won’t be put in a financial bind if new regulations are put into place requiring the upgrade on short notice.

“We will still have to accommodate additional radios later, but the huge bulk of our radio system will be upgraded to these newer radios,” he said. “Because of the possible future frequency changes. There’s nothing set in stone, but I want to get ahead of the game before it does happen. Because we can’t afford that.”

Lewis said the Leadwood Fire Protection District responds to between 470 and 500 calls a year, including mutual aid requests from other area departments.

The Leadwood Fire Protection District will be seeing upgrades to its radio system after receiving a competitive grant from the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

The Leadwood Fire Protection District will be seeing upgrades to its radio system after receiving a competitive grant from the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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