Need for radios causing headaches for rural fire chiefs
Rural fire districts are grappling with how they will come up with money to buy 800 MHz radios they will soon be required to carry.
Firefighters can neither afford the radios nor ignore the need to buy them.
At a recent fire, Lost Springs fire chief Brad Pagenkopf saw a group of his firefighters threatened by flames sneaking up behind them. He tried to radio them to tell them about the threat, but they could not hear him. Luckily, the firefighters saw the threat and got out of harm’s way, but it brought home to Pagenkopf the importance of communication.
“We’re facing a situation where it’s our firefighters’ safety if we can’t communicate,” Pagenkopf said. “Are we going to have to impose a sales tax to protect our volunteer firefighters? Or is the county going to come up with a solution?”
Recent commitments by Marion and the county show the costs for new radios could be as high as $1,650 for portable units and $2,200 for vehicle units.
Rural fire departments in the county are trying to figure out where to go from here and fire chiefs are scratching their heads.
“Other than going broke, we don’t know,” Pagenkopf said. “We’ve been looking into grants and the chances of being awarded a grant are slimmer than winning the lottery.”
Several other fire chiefs said they are researching grant information.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” Lincolnville fire district chief Lester Kaiser said. “I expect we’ll apply for some kind of grant.”
Kaiser said imposing a sales tax is being considered as well.
Goessel fire chief Galen Miller said the department is considering all avenues.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Tampa assistant fire chief Tim Svoboda said. “We don’t have the money.”
Fundraisers are another possibility, Svoboda said.
“In the Tampa community, when we have to do something, there’s a good turnout,” Svoboda said. “We’ve had fundraisers before, and usually get what we ask for.”
Pagenkopf said his department is juggling two needs.
“With my department, I have a brush truck that needs to be updated, and I may have to get radios instead of the brush truck,” Pagenkopf said. “We’ll take donations. We’ll take anything. We’re not asking for payment. We’re asking for the tools we need to do our jobs safely. We sure need that support from the community.”