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County VFDs Going Digital

The Driggs Volunteer Fire Department has received a federal grant for $491,610 and the money will be used to equip volunteer fire departments in the county with digital radios, according to Don Fairbanks, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Fairbanks was notified of the grant award last week. The grant comes from the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. Even though the Driggs department is listed as the grant recipient, the money will be used countywide, Fairbanks said.

“Driggs is the grant recipient and represents all fire departments in the county,” Fairbanks said.

The grant will pay for 95 percent of the purchase price with county fire departments providing the rest, Fairbanks said. The funds will purchase 307 hand-held digital radios and 132 mobile digital radios, which will be installed in fire trucks and other vehicles owned by the departments, Fairbanks said.

Fairbanks said the new radios will replace an aging system. There are four radio towers in the county and not all fire departments have all frequencies in their present radios. With the new radios, personnel from any fire department can communicate with personnel from any other fire department.

Also, Fairbanks said, the new radios will have four tactical frequencies that will be used for on-scene, ground operations. The radios will also be able to switch from analog to digital frequencies and be able to transmit data and voice communications.

“We’re moving from analog radios to digital radios because it’s an improvement and it’s required by the FCC,” Fairbanks said. “Digital radios provide clearer reception. They cancel out the ambient noise so you only hear the voices.”

There’s a drawback, however, for those who routinely use scanners to monitor emergency traffic in the county, Fairbanks said.

“Scanners won’t be much good once we go to this because they won’t be able to pick up traffic on these radios,” Fairbanks said. “The initial page will still go out on an analog signal and they’ll still be able to pick that up. But, digital-to-digital traffic won’t be picked up.”

Fairbanks said radios should be purchased and operational within two to three months.

“We’ll begin buying them as soon as the grant money comes in,” he said. “The radios will have to be programmed and inventoried and the truck radios, the mobiles, will have to be installed.”

Fairbanks also said that eventually, all emergency agencies in the county will be equipped with digital radios.

“We will eventually have EMS and law enforcement on digital radios,” he said. “We’re already working on grants to pay for this.”

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