Marshall County’s various fire departments are finding out that teamwork pays off — to the tune of nearly three quarters of a million dollars.

U.S. Senator Dick Lugar was notified Thursday that the Plymouth Fire Department will receive a grant totaling $713,631 for operations and safety. The grants are through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program.

While the grant application itself was written by Plymouth Fire Chief Andy Metsker and administered through the Plymouth Fire Department, it was a group effort of all the fire chiefs in Marshall County, and township officials as well. Each fire department in the county will be reaping the benefits and dollars of the grant.

“I wrote the grant because this is a project that I believe in totally and I’m very passionate about,” said Metsker. “But none of this would have ever happened without every other fire chief and department in Marshall County. All I did was the paper work; they were the ones putting forth the effort. Township departments, town departments, every department in Marshall County gets the credit for this.”

Awarding of the grant was a highly-competitive process that involved submitting detailed paperwork on every incident that every fire department in the county had responded to in the past three years — along with each department’s budget.

“First responders are the backbone of our communities and it is vital to ensure they have the proper equipment and training,” said Senator Lugar in announcing the grant.

The money will go to buy 800 MHz radio equipment so that all departments, along with all local law enforcement, will be able to communicate completely with each other at all times. The money will also go to pay for “vehicular repeaters” — devices that will be on each responding vehicle which in essence makes each a mobile antenna, capable of hooking into the statewide 800 MHz tower system.

“This money will resolve the issues that we’ve had with the 800 MHz system,” said Metsker. “The state added a new tower at Bass Lake that will also help with the Culver issues and the Bremen difficulties are addressed by the second part of this grant. The vehicular repeaters basically act as a tower by itself outside the building. They can then hook directly into the state system from there.

“If there is a tornado, or say a terrorist cuts the State’s T1 line or any sort of emergency that disrupt communication, we will still be able to communicate with each other. Firefighter safety is going to be greatly improved. I’ve already seen that with the (radio) units we have.”

In Fiscal Year 2009, AFG was administered by FEMA’s Grant Programs Directorate in cooperation with the U.S. Fire Administration. The AFG program provides grants on a competitive basis to rural, urban and suburban fire departments throughout the United States. The grant will have a big impact on budgets around Marshall County.

“This is equipment that normally would have to have been in our budgets,” said Metsker. “With this grant it’s a 90-10 match — we just have to come up with the 10 percent. Each department will have a different portion of the grant, so each match amount will be different but everybody will have enough money to get everything they need. This was a very competitive grant process but we got 100 percent of everything we asked for. I’m confident our issues of communication coverage will be solved with this money.”

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