MASON — The Mason Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) has become the first fire department in the county to enter the world of digital communication.
The Bend Area department recently purchased 10 portable digital Motorola radios and accessories, according to R.C. Faulk, deputy director of Mason County 911 and a MVFD member. The purchase is the first in the process to upgrade the department’s entire system.
Packed with a plethora of features, the radios are more like mini computers, Faulk said. Called “channels” in the old days, he stated the new radios have 850 “talk groups” available for use.
Sitting at the fire station, members have the capability of speaking with every 911 center in the state. Members could go anywhere in the country to assist another department and be able to get on the same talk group to communicate. Also accessible are Homeland Security, the Army National Guard, four national inoperability groups and many others.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox to be able to help people,” said Chuck Blake, MVFD member.
The radios also have a special feature that allow firefighters to be able to talk to one another on an encrypted talk group that no scanner in the state can pick up on.
According to Paul Johnson, MVFD member, the department now has over 20 members. The new radios were given to the officers, truck operators, and the most active firefighters.
Faulk, who is also a member of the West Virginia Digital Radio Board, held a class for all the department members to teach them the new technology prior to any of the radios being distributed. He noted West Virginia is fortunate that after purchasing the radios, there is no additional costs. In other states, such as Ohio, departments must pay a monthly service fee for each device.
While the new radios will also work in conjunction with the older system, the older radios cannot pick up any of the talk on the digital talk groups. Faulk said once the department goes totally digital, the old system will be kept as a back-up. A digital base station is already installed at Mason.
Normally costing around $3,500 each, plus the cost of accessories, Faulk sought out special deals and was able to receive a significantly lower price for the 10 radios at $12,000. The money came from fundraisers, such as the boot drive, along with money regularly received from the state, county, and Town of Mason.
With county money to the department dropping in recent years from $27,000 to $9,500, the department is hoping to receive a grant that members applied for in the amount of $52,500. That Homeland Security grant would allow the MVFD to purchase 10 additional portable handheld radios, as well as five mobile radios for the trucks, making the department totally digital.
Regardless of whether the grant is awarded, Blake said the department plans to be completely digital somewhere between February and April, 2018.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.