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Assistance To Firefighters Grants Success Stories - Buncombe County, NC

This page highlights how new equipment was bought with a grant awarded to the Skyline Fire Department. This page is intended for fire departments and nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Service organizations (EMS).

$1 Million Grant for Professional Radios Improves Communications in North Carolina

Firefighters at the firestation.North Carolina’s Buncombe County (west of Charlotte) is full of mountainous terrain and therefore, problems with fireground communications occur daily. Before they applied for their 2012 AFG Regional Grant, the Skyline Fire Department noted that the county was able to provide only 62% coverage, which put many of their responders at risk and impaired each department’s efficiency. After detailing in their application the extensive testing and research of several radios, the Skyline Fire Department was awarded the $1 million grant and was able to provide over 400 high-performance professional firefighter service radios to 19 local departments.

Two to three years before applying for the grant, Skyline Fire Department Deputy Chief Ryan Cole and his colleagues began researching manufacturers that produced high performance radio equipment. After interviewing each company, Cole’s team applied a series of tests to all the demo radios.

Firefighter examining equipment.“We put them in an oven and a freezer,” said Cole. “We dropped them from six feet and 10 feet. We gave them a vibration test. We simulated high wind. We simulated talking in front of trucks. We simulated talking with SCBA on.”

Cole and his colleagues then took the audio recordings, evaluated them and accepted bids from four of the six manufacturers. The data was then tiered based on price and performance and shown to the local fire chiefs. The end result was meeting the needs of each department as well as showing competitive pricing and increased service. The equipment was able to meet the needs of each department, but allowed each department to determine what those needs were.New equipment purchased with grant.

“It actually resulted in purchases from all four manufacturers,” said Cole, nothing that different departments had different needs and therefore, different requests for different radios. “It allowed fire chiefs to make choices, so it was extremely successful. I’m still alive so I think all 19 departments were happy.”

Fortunately for Cole, his 2012 AFG Grant request was approved and his department received the funds in June 2013. Skyland Fire Department’s RFP was submitted in December 2013 and purchases were made by February 2014. The equipment was received, inventoried, programmed and issued by May, and personnel was trained by July. The grant was initially supposed to be an 80/20 match but by the time the process had ended, it ended up being a 50/50 match with lots of funding coming from the departments. Cole says, however, that the radios could not have been purchased by the departments alone.Picture #2 of equipment purchased with grant.

“Without the grant, it would have taken us 10 years to get a baseline function for the radios. [Because of the grant], we could transition immediately to almost 50% of our communication needs. We were able to replace half the radios in the county. Because of that, we were able to meet the critical needs in our area.”

Because of the project’s absolute success, Cole has had at least 20 people inquire about the testing process and he’s happy to share the preliminary information. He encourages departments, however, to identify their own expectations, develop their own goals and objectives, and to perform their own testing in case things have changed or they experience different outcomes.

Firefighter testing our gas mask.Given that he has three 4-inch binders full of grant information, Cole states that the grant was very time-heavy but that the benefit received was worth every minute of managing the grant. He believes his grant request was very strong because of the clear goals and objectives established.  He compares transitioning from the old radios to the news ones as if they were upgrading from a flip phone to an iPhone.

“We were able to provide clear communication that was operable with the state system and that allowed firefighters to have that communication no matter where they are,” he said. “It’s not something we are struggling with any more.”

Last Updated: 
08/25/2015 - 11:58