Fire departments
get radio revamp

FOX RIVER GROVE – A group effort by four area fire departments, the agencies hope, will make responding to local emergencies safer and more efficient.

The Fox River Grove, Cary, Nunda Rural and Lakewood fire departments have won a combined $580,000 in federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant funds and with it hope to update their radio systems.

The project has two parts.

The first is a move away from an overcrowded radio frequency.

The frequency the departments use now is shared by 15 departments in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, according to the grant application filed in 2009.

There is “constant interference,” and “firefighter safety and accountability is constantly in jeopardy,” the application said.

“It is not uncommon for all four departments to be working at separate incidents and experiencing heavy radio interference from as far away as Baron County, Michigan,” the application said.

The situation creates confusion and decreases firefighters’ capability of operating effectively, Fox River Grove Fire Chief Bob Kreher said.

“It has been a real safety issue that needed to be fixed,” he said, “but none of us on our own could afford to fix it.”

As part of their new system, the departments will use two new “clean frequencies,” Kreher explained. “We were told [by the Federal Communications Commission] there is not a lot of traffic on them in our area.”

Kreher said no emergency calls had been missed because of the current radio problems because 911 emergency dispatcher SEECOM uses powerful equipment.

“The problem comes in when we are out in the field,” Kreher said. “Say I’m standing in the front yard of a house. I can’t reach SEECOM from my portable radio.”

Often, Kreher said, the firefighters can’t get a clear signal to the dispatch center, and so someone has to run back to a vehicle and use a larger mobile radio to contact the dispatch center, Kreher said.

The second part of the project includes installing new transmitters.

The company Chicago Communications will put new equipment up this summer on water towers in Cary, Fox River Grove and Lakewood, Kreher said.

The grant is expected to cover all permit and inspection costs the respective villages might incur.

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