By Jeff Gallatin
North Olmsted officials are working on using federal grants to upgrade communications and safety equipment in its police and fire departments.
City Council approved at its March 1 meeting accepting Cuyahoga County’s offer of 20 MARCS multiagency digital radios for the police department. The county obtained the radios via a federal Homeland Security grant and has been transferring and distributing them to cities in the county. In addition, council also approved at its Feb. 20 meeting formally seeking a $360,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency matching grant to seek new self-contained breathing apparatus for the fire department to replace old equipment, which in some cases has been in use for more than 20 years.
Referring to the police radios, department officials said it will be a major upgrade.
“They’ll increase our ability to communicate with other departments and cities a great deal,” police Capt. Ron Cox said. “Before, we were largely limited to being able to communicate with the cities around us. These will allow us to communicate with other departments and agencies in chase or other situations where we go farther out from the city.”
Safety-service Director Don Glauner noted the MARCS system is closed except to the safety agencies using it, and that it allows the different departments to communicate via a series of towers throughout the state. He said as one example, it would allow North Olmsted officers to communicate with other departments in the network if they were chasing a vehicle down Interstate 71 toward Mansfield.
Detective Chuck Fioritto said that with the agreement, the city will be able to use the radios, although to get the entire department on the system will require approximately another 20 radios.
The radios will cost about $20 per month each for the communications operations and setup.
Paul Barker, chairman of City Council’s Safety Committee, said the radios are a bargain in several ways.
“Anytime you can use grant money and get equipment upgrades for almost nothing, it’s a good deal for your city,” he said. “We could have used them to communicate with other cities and communities during the massive power outage 10 years ago. And the ability to communicate better with other police and safety agencies could be crucial.”
Referring to the fire department grant proposal, fire Chief Ed Schepp said if obtained, the grant would allow the city to obtain 35 breathing devices used when the firefighters go into hazardous areas with fires or chemicals.
The department can continue to repair its current devices so they remain serviceable, but he noted they do not meet many modern safety standards, such as showing the level of oxygen in their tanks, he said.
Schepp said the application to FEMA is reviewed by other fire professionals, and that he believes they will see the need for better, more modern equipment.
City officials allocated $35,000 in the 2014 municipal budget to provide the matching funds required by FEMA.
Barker said both departments deserve credit for utilizing the grants to seek the equipment upgrades.