BARBERTON: Clinton and New Franklin safety forces have experienced problems communicating with each other, especially from low-lying areas of the village.
Barberton firefighters have had “limited” communication with most other departments during regional emergencies, except when using a few handheld radios or if other departments have been programmed to reach Barberton’s aging system.
Those problems will be solved with an upgrade to their respective radio systems, Barberton fire Chief Kim Baldwin said. An $851,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency Assistance to Firefighters Grant awarded to Barberton, New Franklin and Clinton will cover most of the cost.
The key to winning the grant was the regional approach the three communities took in finding solutions and their cooperation with each other, Baldwin said.
“The grant will enable us to replace our radio systems with new 700/800 MHz digital systems that are P-25 compliant,” he said, adding that the new system should be in place by August.
Grants were tied to the P-25 standard established by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). While most safety forces have the ability to communicate now, the new technology improves their ability to communicate quickly in an emergency.
As many as 350 radios Barberton employees use will be upgraded from an analog platform to digital and will be P-25 compliant. The mobile and portable radios and a new base station located on the city’s east side will allow all city-owned radios to connect with radio systems made by different manufacturers, the chief said.
In other words, they will have “interoperable communications” and eventually will be able to communicate efficiently with all other P-25 compliant departments — police, fire, service, etc. — in Summit County.
The same upgrades will be made to New Franklin’s and Clinton’s radios.
As much as 40 percent of the Clinton area is so low, surrounding hills impair radio signals.
“It’s very frustrating. We’ve had a number of house fires where our communications were limited,” New Franklin fire Chief Steve Leslie said.
New equipment installed on an existing tower should correct the problem, he said. The base radio will be placed at the bottom of the tower, along with a generator that would take over in the event of a power loss. The grant will pay for the majority of the cost of the upgrade.
“The biggest positive for us is to provide better service in the southwest area of New Franklin and in Clinton where we have issues of not being able to get radio reception,” Leslie said.
The two communities work together in providing fire and emergency medical services and share a station. They have assigned personnel that jointly protect the west side of New Franklin and village of Clinton, the chief said.
Each community is paying a required share of matching funds for the regional grant. Fire chiefs from each of the three departments counted the number of radios they have and divided the cost by the number that each would need to reprogram.
Barberton will pay 70 percent of the match, New Franklin will pay 25 percent and Clinton will pay 5 percent. When added to the grant, the total expenditures for the project will be $946,360.
Baldwin applied for the FEMA grant in 2011 after Barberton fire Lt. Rob Pursley wrote the request with the assistance of Copley fire Chief Mike Benson. The application was modeled after a similar grant Copley, Norton, Bath and Fairlawn obtained in 2009, Baldwin said.
The county radio system, belonging to the city of Akron and Summit County, is earmarked to be upgraded to P-25 compliance between 2014 and 2018, depending on available funding, said Michael Szabo, radio system administrator for County Executive Russ Pry.
The city/county system is well ahead of other counties in becoming P-25 compliant. Akron applied for an Assistance to Firefighters grant last year to upgrade, Szabo said. The goal is to eventually incorporate other P-25 radio sites into the county system.
“Interoperable communication is key in a major disaster, but also in daily operations. Our goal is to create a standard throughout the county,” he said.
Like the P-25 compliant suburban systems, when the central county system and its five radio towers are upgraded, every office in the city and the county will be able to communicate with each other more efficiently, Szabo said.
Leslie noted that in 2011, his department responded to 48 mutual-aid calls for help in emergencies.
So, not only will the upgrades help New Franklin and Clinton, the new system will come into play to help save lives and property in the region, he said.
“No community can stand alone. New York, the largest fire department in the U.S., found that out on 9/11,” he said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.