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Dwight Fire Protection District Receives FEMA Funding For New Radios
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By Lieutenant Dustin Campbell
July 4, 2017

Dwight Fire Protection District receives FEMA funding for Regional Communications Project
Over the last three years, the Dwight Fire Protection District attempted to receive funding for radio system improvements without success. During that time, Dwight Fire Chief Paul Johnson, 911 Director Randy Wittenberg, and members of the Vermillion Valley 911 Board attempted to work with all of the fire departments within Livingston County to apply for federal funding for a new regional fire department radio system. Out of the 18 fire departments in Livingston County, only two departments, Dwight and Pontiac, agreed to apply for a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Regional grant. All other fire agencies in the county declined to be part of the grant request.
In November of 2016, Chief Johnson wrote and submitted a FEMA regional grant application in an attempt to obtain funding for new mobile and portable fire radios. On June 30, 2017, Chief Johnson was notified that the two departments have been selected to receive a grant award of $220,000 that will be used to provide interoperable radios for each fire truck and each firefighter riding seat in each vehicle.
The fire, EMS, and law enforcement operations revolving around the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 provided clear evidence of the importance for interoperable public safety radio systems. Locally, the need for interoperable radios was demonstrated during the response operations that took place in the aftermath of two tornados that occurred in Dwight in 2010 and in Pontiac in 2016 in addition to extra alarm structure fires throughout Livingston County.
Firefighters from Dwight and Pontiac often operate in 4 different counties, each having their own different radio frequency. Livingston County Dispatch operates an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) system, Grundy and McLean Counties operate on a Very High Frequency (VHF) system, and Kankakee County dispatch utilizes an 800 MHz radio system.
Law enforcement agencies in Livingston County as well as the Illinois State Police have migrated their communications to the Illinois interoperable communications system, STARCOM21. STARCOM 21 provides interoperable radio communications to state, local, federal, and approved non-governmental agencies. Other area organizations such as schools, hospitals, state facilities, local businesses, public works departments, and Department of Transportation also use different radio frequencies. Both Dwight and Pontiac Fire departments receive & provide mutual/automatic aid to over 40 different departments in all 4 counties & work with all of the above listed agencies, making communications on the emergency scene a critical safety issue.
Until now, no fire department in Livingston County had one radio platform that would operate on all of the different radio frequencies. The lack of communications interoperability leads to critical safety issues on emergency scenes. Firefighters, EMS workers, and Police Officers had no way to communicate other than face-to-face. Incident commanders were unable to contact fire crews working in buildings or those responding to the scene. Because many of the mutual aid fire departments operate on different radio frequencies it was nearly impossible to communicate with all of them at emergency scenes. These communication failures result in loss of incident accountability, impede the incident commander's ability to give orders and advise crews of hazards or changing conditions, and limit overall operational effectiveness. These situations lead to higher fire losses and increase the possibility of civilian and firefighter injuries/deaths.
This will dramatically improve the overall safety of our emergency responders and allow us to communicate with all Police, Fire, EMA, and Public Works agencies throughout Illinois. Having the proper communications equipment will allow firefighters to be more proficient and thereby protect lives and property more effectively and efficiently in the following ways:
•Ensuring a method of fireground communication is established to enable coordination among the IC and FFs
•Ensuring that fireground communication are present through the use of portable radios communications
•Ensuring that all firefighters who enter hazardous areas are equipped w/ two-way communications to the fireground incident commander
•Providing National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) compliant portable radios as stated in NFPA Standard 1221, Section 6-3.6
•Providing adequate on-scene communications including tactical channels as stated in NFPA Standard 1561
•Establishing and maintaining multiple operating frequencies for emergency services, allowing portable radios at incidents to be equipped with two frequencies, one channel for tactical messages and one channel for command
•Providing all responding firefighters with portable radios
•Ensuring communication interoperability between firefighters within multiple departments
•Establishing and maintaining regional mutual-aid radio channels (interoperability) to coordinate and communicate activities involving units from multiple jurisdictions
The estimated completion for the radio project is September 2017.

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