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Fed funds OKed for fire district radios
Plan will improve emergency communications
doug hubbard
Doug Hubbard

In order to amp up emergency communications in the northern part of Barton County, Fire District Number 1 requested and the County Commission approved the use of COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act funds to help purchase 800 MHz mobile radios, portable radios and pagers.

The fire district requested $88,141.76 for the equipment to enhance public communication efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“I’ll just start back to 2001 when the tornado came through at Hoisington,” district Fire Chief Doug Hubbard said. “We quickly started working on plans for update communications because that was quickly identified as a problem.”

It continues to be an issue, he said. Although it’s getting better throughout the county, “anytime we have a multi-agency call, communications is always identified as lacking.”

Around a decade ago, the current radio network was up-to-date, working well and adequate. But studies since then have shown that is not the case now, he said.

Today, the departments have 800 capabilities available through the state. And, surrounding counties are utilizing the 800 MHz systems as well, making it more important to make the switch.

“911 has been working very hard to update their system and get us all on 800,” Hubbard said. “Right now (911 Director) Dena Popp has set a goal to have all fire and EMS departments on the 800 megahertz system by mid 2022.”

The new network will be easier to use and help provide radio coverage is areas the northeast part of the county that are dead zones now, he said.

His fire district was on target to change and been setting money aside. However, other needs, like a new pumper truck, have required the spending of some of those funds.

“I think this is a pretty good fit for this money and it’s going to be a big benefit,” he said of ARPA. 

Grant/Compliance Manager Sue Cooper told commissioners funding is available through the federal relief package.

“We have the first disbursement of our ARPA funds totalling $2.5 million and that has been obligated,” Cooper said. “However, after doing some payroll studies and timesheet audits, it has been determined that there are going to be some additional funds that were initially obligated that may not be used by Dec. 31, 2021.”

The Communications Department radio console project, premium pay for front-line staff and the special audit required for federal aid accounting are committed. But, the unspent money comes from payroll and from a lower cost for attorney services, she said. 

Hubbard’s request would fit into the “enhancements to public communication efforts with first responders” category and qualify for ARPA money, Cooper said. “One of the goals that you identified back in July of this year was to enhance communication efforts with ARPA funds.”

Safe sleep, fire prevention targeted by grant

The Barton County Commission Tuesday morning accepted a $4,550 Kansas Department of Health and Environment Injury Prevention mini-grant. “We targeted the application on fire prevention and safe sleep,” Health Director Karen Winkelman said.

“Our plan is to buy porta cribs and teach safe sleep habits,” she said. They will also purchase smoke detectors. 

And along with that, they are planning a community baby shower for next summer.

“Last year was the first year that we had a baby shower event that we held in the courthouse area here and it was very well attended,” she said.

They had multiple partners that came and vendors that set up and we used similar funding for that.

The shower includes community participants offering an outdoor, interactive exposition designed for new and expectant parents, their support people and community service providers.