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Grants will help upgrade county's aging radio system

December 19, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Fire Department will receive a $202,231 grant to buy new radio equipment, one of several grants recently announced by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster as Franklin County prepares to upgrade its public safety radio system.

The department will purchase a UHF digital radio system to replace its low-band frequency radios, according to an announcement Friday from Shuster's office. The funding is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Assistance for Firefighters Program, the release stated.

In August, Shuster's office announced $108,737 in funding from the same program for the puchase of new radio equipment by the New Franklin (Pa.) Volunteer Fire Co.

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"Franklin County has been growing at a rapid pace and it is important that the community's services keep up," said Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Emergency Management Subcommittee.

In September, Shuster's office announced $39,102 in funding for new radios for the Franklin County Sheriff's Department and the Chambersburg Police Department for new radio equipment. That money came from the U.S. Department of Justice's Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

"We were waiting for the bids to come in on the new county radio system to see what that system will look like before we order the individual units," Sheriff Robert Wollyung said. The office intends to purchase seven or eight mobile units for its vehicles, and Wollyung said he would like to buy at least 10 handheld digital radios for his deputies.

Wollyung's office is now on a low-band frequency system, but it does not allow for communications between deputies within the courthouse because of steel supports and other architectural features that interfere with the signal. Wollyung said his personnel rely on cell phones to talk to each other inside the courthouse because the signal is better.

The county last year approved a $39 million bond issue that included $4 million for replacement of its public service radio system, which serves police and fire departments, ambulance squads and municipalities in dispatching. Earlier this month, the county received bids on the project with consultants having 30 days to review the bids, County Commission Bob Thomas said.

Because of the complexity of the project, Thomas said he would not be surprised if the review period were extended, but he expects the county will replace its aging system, which operates on a variety of frequencies, with a UHF system in 2006.

The federal funding that police, fire and ambulance services have received for new equipment is important to making the switch, because those organizations will need radios that are compatible with the county system, Thomas said. The goal, once the system is in place, is to allow different agencies to communicate directly with each other using a common system and eliminate "dead zones" where communications are sporadic.

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