An interlocal agreement approved this week by Hopkins County Commissioners Court signaled the start of a partnership among city and county firefighters and the local EMS service, formed to go after a regional communications grant.
Hopkins County Fire Marshal Andy Endsley said while the interlocal agreement is between the City of Sulphur Springs Fire Department, Hopkins County Fire Department and Hopkins County EMS, the regional communications grant, if obtained, would benefit volunteer fire departments too.
“This is an agreement we came up with where we are beginning the process to start a regional grant for communications, for mobile radios, handheld radios,” Endsley said.
He noted SSFD “will be leading this grant, meaning they will be taking the bulk of the paperwork.”
Endsley asked the Commissioners Court Monday to approve the interlocal agreement to present along with the application “to show it’s a regional grant.”
“Not only will it help the paid department (HCFD), but it will also be buying new radios for all the volunteer fire departments, the City of Sulphur Springs Fire Department and Hopkins County EMS,” Endsley said.
The grant being sought is an Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which Ensley said, unfortunately, does not extend to include law enforcement. The grant program has existed for about 20 years. In 2011, agencies could apply for grant funding to help obtain infrastructure such as repeaters and consoles as well. That part of the grant has been eliminated. Currently, fire departments can apply for radios for all vehicles and handheld radios for the individuals within them.
Endsley said the county currently has no additional radios to hand out to volunteers, when the departments get new members. In fact, they haven’t had any extras for quite a while. The last time the county got a significant grant of this type was in 2016, when the Local Emergency Planning Committee received a grant to obtain 102 handheld radios. All of those radios have since been distributed to the various departments.
SSFD Chief David James noted not all information regarding the AFG grant requirements has been released, so as yet, it’s not known completely what portion of the grant will have to be matched by recipients. In the past, the percent of the grant the recipients had to come up with was based on population. So, based on that, the local fire department and EMS will likely only be required to come up with about 10 percent of the overall cost for the new radios, maybe a little bit more.
Endsley said basically, each collaborating entity would pay a portion of the local share the grant cost. For instance, if 30 of the total number of units go to SSFD, the city department would put in that percentage of the local share for the grant. The county’s portion of the local grant match will be the largest, because they will have not only HCFD’s percent but also that of the volunteer fire departments that the county provides radios for.
“That’s a huge expense that will be a burden taken off of the volunteers,” Endsley said. “This is a very much-needed grant. It’s time to update our radios.”
If approved, the new radios may not be the same brand that’s currently in use. Electronic technology, including the newest and most advanced in radios, often becomes quickly outdated within a few years. Case in point, it’s near impossible to obtain parts for the current communications devices, so the departments live in hope none need repairs, according to the HCFD chief.
Unfortunately, the older and more use each sees, the more likely it is to begin falling into disrepair or failing. That’s a problem as there are no extra remaining from the last grant to replace them with. Endsley said the departments are evaluating available options from different vendors, weighing which radios would be most cost effective, functional and durable.
After the Commissioners Court unanimously approved the interlocal agreement between HCFD, SSFD and Hopkins County EMS during their regular court session earlier this week, Endsley then obtained their permission to enter into an agreement with Vickers Consulting Services, Inc., for grant writing services for the regional AFG application.
“This is the same grant writer we’ve used several times that’s been very successful for us in a lot of areas on the fire department side. We are very satisfied with that end. It would be a percentage of what we would need. Each entity would help split out paying that end of the bill. This is something we need to move forward with for the grant as they would actually be doing the grant-writing for us,” Endsley said.