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Aug 22, 2017 4:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach, Eastport And East Moriches Fire Departments Secure Federal Grant

The Eastport, Westhampton Beach, and East Moriches Fire Departments will split a $313,334 FEMA grant to upgrade their radio systems. KATE RIGA
Aug 22, 2017 4:29 PM

In 2021, a change in ownership of an intangible but valuable resource—the airwaves—is forcing fire departments nationwide to update their communication technologies.

As part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, the Federal Communications Commission must give the radio frequency currently used by volunteer fire departments to commercial users, requiring firefighters to install new radio equipment that operates on a higher frequency, or “band.”

Last Thursday, August 17, the Eastport, Westhampton Beach and East Moriches fire departments secured a $313,334 grant—to be split evenly three ways—through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant program to update their respective communication equipment. The money will be used to purchase new portable, hand-held radios and larger units to be installed in each department’s fire trucks. The departments originally applied for the federal grant in October 2016.

“Essentially, all of our communication devices will no longer be usable once the mandate to switch over to high-band drops the hammer on that,” Eastport Fire Department Treasurer Bud Mazura said on Monday. “So in anticipation, we’re gearing up.”

The grant money likely won’t cover all of the costs, according to Eastport Fire Commissioner Tom Collins, a former fire chief. The three departments originally asked for $384,000 combined and will have to cover the shortfall on their own.

The three departments joined forces to increase the likelihood that they would nab one of these highly sought after regional grants. “When you enter into a consortium and three fire departments would benefit, that spreads the wealth more and gets their attention more than an individual department in something like this, since everyone needs radios,” Mr. Mazura said.

Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services Commissioner Joe Williams said his office has been pushing for the development of more of these regional grants to alleviate the fiscal burden of the pending upgrades—a cost that will ultimately be passed on to taxpayers.

“We spoke with local congressmen to tell them about the deadline, and that the county-wide costs for 109 fire departments would be immense,” Mr. Williams said on Tuesday. “They are pushing in Washington for us.”

U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin assisted in securing the $313,334 grant after voting for HR 244, which was signed into law in May and provided $345 million in funding for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

Suffolk County FRES will maintain its lower frequency channel through 2021 to help ease the transition pains for local fire departments. “It is hard to get parts for them, but the county has made a commitment to maintaining the channel,” Mr. Williams said.

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