By Kristen Miller
Wright County is one step closer to switching over to 800 mHz radios, thanks to a $1.1 million matching grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The switch from the analog VHF system to the 800 mHz digital radios is a mandated by the federal government after communication failures during the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
All emergency response personnel need to be switched over by 2013.
Wright County is expecting to be up and running by October, after talks at Wednesday’s fire chiefs’ meeting.
The grant was written by the Monticello Fire Department, but all the county’s fire departments will reap the benefits.
Each department will receive mobile radios for inside the fire trucks, base station radios, and portable radios.
“We’ll have better reception, better quality,” said Montrose Fire Chief Mike Marketon.
“All agencies in the region will be able to talk to each other better,” he said.
The old VHF was running out of channels statewide and there was not enough frequency, according to Marketon.
“[With VHF] we have about three or four channels to choose from,” Marketon said. “If the county has a big incident, we end up talking over each other,” he said, adding the new radios will have about 96 channels.
“These are hopefully going to fix that,” he said.
Since it’s a matching grant, FEMA contributed $895,198 and the departments contributed $223,799. The total cost of the project is estimated at $1,118,997.
For example, the Montrose Fire Department received $80,000 for new radio equipment and it is responsible for $14,000.
Montrose will have 11 portable radios, one base, and eight mobile radios inside the trucks.
The Cokato Fire Department will receive one base, six mobiles for trucks, and 20 portables which will also benefit the ambulance service.
By applying and receiving the grant, the fire departments are saving county taxpayers almost $900,000, Marketon explained.
There may be some additional maintenance costs and user fees for the cost of the county putting in new towers. This cost is yet to be determined
Some of the counties already on the system are Hennepin Carver, and Sherburne. All of the ambulance services, including Allina and Gold Cross, are also switched over.
Other local fire departments will receive the following (numbers were requested by each department on the original grant and may change due to pricing or needs of department):
• Howard Lake 10 portables, one base, and five mobiles for the trucks (also to benefit the ambulance service).
• Waverly six portables, one base, and seven mobiles for trucks.
• Delano 18 portables, one base, eight mobiles for trucks.