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Fire departments earn $500K FEMA grant

Communication systems within area fire departments are getting a boost, to the tune of $500,000.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant will allow nine fire departments to purchase equipment for digital radios, improving communication among law enforcement and fire departments.

The grant will be divvied out among the Perham, New York Mills, Ottertail, Bluffton, Deer Creek, Dent, Henning, Parkers Prairie and Vining departments, which together serve around 21,000 residents.

Those within the departments will have to undergo three years of training on the equipment, said Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt.

Schmidt told the Perham City Council he had anticipated the grant would go through, and was pleased with the ultimate result.

"It's a really good deal for the whole county," said Schmidt, who wrote the grant application.

Currently, the fire departments use analog radio systems, which Schmidt said can provide weak and scratchy signals.

In the grant application, Schmitz wrote that the streamlined radio system - 800 MHz - would drastically improve communication and eliminate problems, allowing the departments to protect schools, hospitals, public infrastructures and other areas from harm.

While some area departments, such as the Perham Police Department, have switched over to digital radio systems, mandatory by March 8, others have not, rendering communication a bit more difficult.

According to a FEMA press release, radio systems used during tornadoes that hit in June 2010 limited the ability to effectively communicate among departments - some were on the digital mode, while others weren't.

Schmidt said the fire department will hang on to the analog radios until everyone is comfortable with the new mode of communication.