This week the federal office of Homeland Security announced that it was awarding the Greencastle Fire Department a grant totaling more than $1 million.
Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent said the fire department will use the money to purchase more than 200 new radios and other pieces of important communications equipment for all 13 of Putnam County's fire departments.
The new radios, known in technical terms as the 800 megahertz system, will provide uniform communications between agencies during major events such as a fire or natural disaster. They became standard across the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.
Under the current system, each department communicates on a different frequency. When more than one department responds to the same accident or fire scene, they have to manually switch their radios to one frequency in order to communicate. The new system will change all that.
"All our agencies will be able to communicate with each other and we will be able to communicate with agencies outside our county," Newgent said.
He said the new system would have been a major help several years ago during the fire at DePauw's Rector Village. He said fire departments responding from outside Putnam County that day were not able to communicate with Greencastle as they made their drive to Greencastle.
Additionally, when the fire departments arrived on the scene, they each had to give Newgent, who was in charge of the command center, one of their radios so he could communicate with them.
"The 800 megahertz system allows open communication on all the same frequency without having to switch back and forth," Greencastle Mayor Nancy Michael said as she joined Newgent in making the announcement on Friday.
"I am so excited and proud. The receiving of this grant is a testament to the type of personnel we have running our fire departments," Michael added.
It will take between eight and 12 months to order the new equipment and distribute it to each of the county's fire departments.
Officials hope that the county's various police agencies will eventually be on line with the system as well, providing multi-agency communications.
Meanwhile, the terms of the grant state that the federal government will provide about $977,000 as its 90-percent share of the grant.
The remaining $108,556, or 10 percent of the grant, will come from each of the county's 13 fire departments, Newgent said. He said the departments have agreed to pay their share.
Something else that needs to happen for the new system to become operational is for the Putnam County 911 Dispatch Center to undergo a technology upgrade.
"That's why it's imperative that the county council support this system," Newgent said.
On Thursday, Newgent went before the county commissioners to tell them about the grant. He thanked the commissioners for their support and was in turn thanked by them.
"I appreciate all the good work you guys do," Commissioner Kristina Warren said.
Commissioner Gene Beck added, "I appreciate getting the (grant) money because we need it."
Outgoing Commission-er Dennis O'Hair offered praise to the various city and county officials who helped put the grant application together.
"It makes you proud when you see a group work together and get something like this done," O'Hair said.
Earlier this year, the county provided around $3,000 for a grant writer from Indianapolis to put together the fire department's application to Homeland Security.