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County seeks FEMA communications grant

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By Jeff M. Hardison

BRONSON -- The Levy County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a request from Fire Chief John Ward to apply for a matching grant to improve radio service in parts of the county where hand-held radios are failing.

A request to apply for a $561,655 grant, where the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays 90 percent and Levy County pays 10 percent, was unanimously approved at a special County Commission meeting on the evening of March 25.

The county needs to improve an antenna in the Wolf Sink area so that the new 800-megahertz portable radios will work better in the Williston-Morriston area, Ward said on behalf of the Levy County Fire Advisory Board. The new radio system cost about $1.5 million and just became fully in use. That antenna is in the Williston-Morriston area.

The county would pay the 10 percent match of $56,165.50 by using money from the Intergovernmental Communications Fund (ICF), which is created from fees added to traffic citations.

There is also an $800 monthly user fee for that antenna, and this user fee is not covered in the grant or by the ICF.

If the grant is awarded, then regional radio communication service will improve for any agency using the State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) in the Williston-Morriston area.

Lt. Scott Anderson of the Levy County Sheriff's Office suggested that the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other state agencies may help fund the $800 monthly tower fee because those agencies would see a benefit from tower improvements.

Radios in vehicles work well, but the hand-held radios have problems in some parts of the county, users said.

Clayton Drew of Levy County EMS said hand-held radios do not work well now in the area of Morriston, after Levy County Road 335 going to Raleigh.

"Through the city of Williston," Drew continued, "they are around 50 percent."

After State Road 121 toward CR 326, the portable radios work about 40 percent, he said.

Ward explained why the hand-held radios are vital.

"Ninety percent of the usage in the fire department is on portables only," Ward said. "We don't have the luxury of going back and forth to our vehicle to talk, whether it be with dispatch or other firemen on the scene."

This is where safety comes in, he added.

"If you've got a downed firefighter inside a structure, or a victim inside, to be able to communicate with those guys outside..." Ward said. "When you hit that button to talk, that's your only lifeline."

If EMS has a combative patient, those rescuers need to be able to call for law enforcement help immediately, he added.