Working with the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, county fire departments were awarded more than $327,000 in grants from the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of State Fire Marshal (SFM), for the state fiscal year of 2020. The grants will allow area agencies to purchase radio equipment and/or services for the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS).
According to the Ohio Administrative Services website, MARCS is a 700/800 MHz radio and data network that utilizes state-of-the-art trunked technology to provide statewide interoperability in digital clarity to its subscribers throughout Ohio and a 10-mile radius outside of Ohio. The MARCS system provides statewide, secure, reliable public service wireless communication for public safety and first responders. The MARCS development contract required 97.5% mobile voice and data in street coverage. Aggregated testing throughout Ohio resulted in 99.71% voice coverage and 98.13% data coverage.
The MARCS network operates on three system components of mobile voice, computer aided dispatch and mobile data. There are currently over 120,000 voice units and over 1,800 mobile data units on the MARCS system with over 2,800 public safety/public service agencies statewide, which includes local, state and federal agencies. Champaign County Fire Chiefs thank State Fire Marshal Jeff A. Hussey and his staff in working with them on this effort.
In a statement, Marshal Hussey expressed that: “Better, more reliable communication means a better overall response to emergency situations, having more agencies on a modern, state-of-the-art radio system translates to an enhanced level of safety for our first responders, and safer communities for Ohioans as a whole.”
Area chiefs believe that the MARCS system will allow our first responders to communicate seamlessly, not only with each other, but with other agencies responding to an incident (i.e. fire departments from neighboring areas, law enforcement, etc.) and when we need to scale up to a state or federal incident.
The county chiefs all agree that the MARCS system is sophisticated, and the cost can be significant. The grant helps to offset the cost of the radio equipment and user fees, making the radios possible for all Champaign County fire departments, regardless of size or budget. Just as important it will allow departments to switch over to MARCS at the same time.
According to the State Fire Marshal’s office they received nearly $9 million in requests for the $3 million in available funding. Priority funding went to departments applying as part of a regional or county-wide effort, and departments that showed they are prepared to immediately begin using the MARCS radios upon award receipt. Six of the 43 counties awarded are part of a regional effort to have each department in the county on the MARCS radio system, counties include: Brown, Champaign, Holmes, Medina, Richland, and Scioto.
As area fire chiefs, we believe the state-of-the-art wireless digital communications will promote interoperability, in order to fight fires and save lives and maximize effectiveness in both normal operations and emergency situations. Further, with County Dispatch updated to the digital system we feel that we are providing the best communications that funds can purchase.
The process for the MARCS grant has been a year-long project that included working meetings with Marshal Hussey and Dick Miller, who is in charge of maintenance of the state system. The county chiefs felt the early process of getting each governing body on board was key to success of the project. In the end, the long discussions of the pros and cons of the MARCS system made the decision to apply for the grant somewhat easy. The chiefs also thank the efforts of EMA Director James Freeman and his stewardship throughout the process. The chiefs believe what matters most is they are doing the right things for the right reason, truly a win-win for Champaign County.
Champaign County’s 911 Dispatch Center has been using MARCS for many years, as has the sheriff’s office. About $400,000 in digital upgrades were made in December and January. Once the Urbana Fire Division is awarded frequencies, which should be within the next month, those frequencies will be released to the general public.
County fire department awards
– Adams Twp.-Rosewood Fire Department – $48,133.52
– Christiansburg Fire Company – $40,614.76
– JSP Joint Fire District – $50,000.00
– Mechanicsburg Fire Department – $47,960.00
– Northeast Champaign County Fire District – $49,956.88
– Urbana Fire Division – $49,989.30
– West Liberty Fire Department – $40,513.60
Dean Ortlieb is chief of the Urbana Fire Division.