12 Chester County fire companies get funds to purchase 200 additional portable radios
Radios serve as lifelines for first responders across the country, allowing them to communicate with their fellow officers and learn what dangers and obstacles await them as they perform their duties.
Soon, 12 Chester County fire companies will be better equipped to operate on the county’s new voice radio system. Two federal grant awards issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will provide those companies with funds to purchase 200 additional portable radios, equipping that many more responders with those technological lifelines.
Lionville Fire Company in Uwchlan acted as a host applicant for one grant application to benefit fire companies along the Main Line and eastern areas of the county, while the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company in East Marlborough hosted a grant to benefit the county’s southern communities. Together, the two grant awards total $500,000.
Lionville’s grant will benefit the Paoli Fire Company, Malvern Fire Company, Radnor Fire Company, East Whiteland Fire Company and West Whiteland Fire Company. They will receive a total of 84 new portable radios at a cost of $2,500 each, according to a news release issued by the county last week.
“This news couldn’t come at a better time as we have recently transitioned to our county’s new radio system,” said Lionville Fire Chief Michael Holmes. “Every one of our firefighters will now be equipped with a radio.”
The Po-Mar-Lin grant benefits firefighters from the Union Fire Company of Oxford, West Grove Fire Company, Avondale Fire Company, Kennett Fire Company and Longwood Fire Company. Together, they will receive $290,000 for the purchase of 116 radios, the release stated. Earlier in the year, the Honey Brook Fire Company also received a $33,000 grant from the same grant program for more radios.
Po-Mar-Lin Fire Chief Stephen Nuse said, “Interoperability is extremely important. Several of our local departments routinely operate with firefighters in other counties and even other states. The ability for all of us to be able to communicate with one another is paramount.”
These grants were obtained through the federal Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) Grant Program, which issues grants to enhance the safety of the public and firefighters with respect to fire and fire-related hazards by providing direct financial assistance to eligible fire departments, the county said.
In February 2013, the county signed a contract with Harris Corp. for the purchase, installation and maintenance of a new $42.1 million digital radio system which replaced analog equipment from the early 1990s. In doing so, the county included the purchase of a select number radios for volunteer firefighters and emergency responders. The new system went online earlier this year.
“Every firetruck in the county was issued at least three portable radios, but some vehicles carry more than three firefighters,” said Bobby Kagel, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Services. “It is important for every firefighter to be able to communicate with one another at an incident scene.” Several fire companies purchased additional radios while others sought grant opportunities to help offset the costs.
Each of these grant applications were written and developed by John Sly, a local volunteer firefighter and president of the Westwood Fire Company in Valley, who operates a professional grant writing firm.
“I personally know the struggles we as volunteers face in order to raise money for the equipment we need to do our jobs,” Sly said in the county’s release. “These grants are a tremendous help and relief to ensure for our own safety. I’m very proud to have helped to bring this federal money to a local level. This is a great example of our federal, county, and local officials working together for the benefit or our communities.”
Each commissioner was quoted as praising the effort to equip the companies with additional radios beyond hat the county had purchased in its system upgrade.
“Our emergency responders now have a state-of-the-art emergency communications system and equipment, providing 99.8 percent portable, on-street radio coverage and improved in-building coverage,” said Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell. “Providing this new system and equipment is one of the many ways we ensure a safe and secure county.”
Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone added that the grants show a commitment to public safety in the county by making critical investments in emergency responders, “as outlined in our strategic plan.” Commissioner Michelle Kichline said that as a former township supervisor, she understands the value of supporting public safety. “The new radio equipment removed a $9 million dollar impact from our municipalities,” she said. The federal funding eases the financial impact on municipalities “even further.”
U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of West Goshen, a former county commissioner, helped to announce the grant awards.
“Upgrading radio equipment and improving communications capabilities during real emergencies will make our communities safer and hopefully will make the difficult jobs of our dedicated emergency responders a little less dangerous,” said Costello, who is running for re-election this November against Willistown Democrat Mike Parrish.
According to the county, FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program will award approximately $340 million directly to fire departments and non-affiliated emergency organizations nationwide to enhance their response capabilities and to more effectively protect the health and safety of the public and emergency response personnel with respect to fire and all other hazards.
Since the inception of the AFG program in 2001, fire companies in the county have received more than $12.6 million in federal grant funds for equipment and vehicles. Each year, more than 10,000 grant applications are received and an average of only 2,000 are funded.