Westmoreland County: Ridge brings $5.9 million grant for radios |

Westmoreland County: Ridge brings $5.9 million grant for radios

Rich Cholodofsky

GREENSBURG — Westmoreland County’s first responders won’t have to sponsor extra bingos or sell more hoagies just so they can access new high-band radio frequencies that will be used next summer by the emergency dispatch system.

Instead, they’ll just have to cash the check hand-delivered Thursday by U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor, appeared with representatives of police, fire and ambulance crews, county officials and Pennsylvania Homeland Security chief Keith Martin to formally announce the award of a $5.9 million grant to pay for first-responder radios.

The money is expected to finance the purchase of about 4,000 radios to enable first responders to access 800-megahertz frequencies that the county 911 system will starting using in July.

The switch to high-band frequencies is designed to improve communications between dispatchers and first responders and between workers at an emergency or crime scene.

Before meeting with reporters Thursday afternoon at the county’s public safety headquarters in Hempfield Township, east of Greensburg, Ridge toured the 911 facility.

“We saw it as an opportunity to build on a foundation by the state and the county commissioners,” Ridge said of the grant.

Westmoreland County was just one of 17 communities throughout the country awarded communication grants Thursday by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Ridge’s department parceled out a total of $79 million.

The county’s grant will pay for a pilot project to demonstrate new technology for enhanced communications among first responders.

“Clearly one of the lessons of Sept. 11 is the reliable communication between first responders at the scene. I think it’s probably the highest priority they have, their equipment. They need to talk to one another for their safety,” Ridge said.

County commissioners earlier this year authorized spending about $12 million to install the 800-MHz radio system designed to speed up and improve emergency communications.

But county officials allocated no funding to pay for the radios local police and fire departments and ambulance companies need to access the 800-MHz channels.

During the summer, the county was selected by Gov. Ed Rendell as the state’s only applicant for a federal homeland security grant.

That money finally came Thursday.

County Public Safety Director Rich Matason said the grant is the last piece of the puzzle in getting the 800-MHz system up and running.

“We will certainly have a very solid interoperable system in place by July 2004,” Matason said.

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