When the radios used by Greenville’s emergency responders need repairs, the city has to go to eBay to look for parts.
Fran Moore, the city’s communications administrator, told members of the Greenville City Council Committee on Public Safety and General Government that the radios used by police, fire, public works, parks and recreation, and dispatch are 2003 models that are nearing the end of their useful life and are no longer supported by the vendor.
“We’re struggling to equip essential personnel,” she said. “There are no spares. There are no parts.”
It will cost nearly $2.3 million to replace them. The city needs 413 hand-held and 209 vehicle-mounted radios.
The police and fire department radios are interoperable, but the police department has loaned radios to the city’s parks and recreation and public works departments to use during weather events and other emergencies so they can communicate.
The fire department’s radios would be the first to be replaced. After those radios are replaced, some could be used as spares and for parts until the implementation is complete.
Matt Efird, the city’s budget manager and interim assistant to the city manager, said a countywide grant would fund more than half of the fire department’s radio needs through a different vendor.
Fire Chief Stephen Kovalcik said all the department’s radios should be replaced at the same time because they are assigned to rigs, not specific firefighters. The department needs uniformity in equipment so firefighters know the controls and can operate them in smoke-filled buildings, he said.
“It’s a safety issue,” Kovalcik said.
Kovalcik recommended the city return the grant radios and allow them to be deployed to other fire departments in the county. “There are smaller volunteer departments that have to literally have hot dog roasts to put fuel in their vehicles,” he said. “They need to be able to communicate, too.”
Outfitting the fire department would cost about $500,000, Efird said. He said possible funding sources include money the council earmarked for neighborhood improvements, using the city’s current budget surplus, or making the radios a priority in next year’s budget.
Moore said the new radios could be implemented over the next three to six years. Interim City Manager Nancy Whitworth recommended to the committee not to go past three years. “Public safety is a core function of a city,” she said. “Six years is too long.”
Moore recommended the city set up a gradual replacement program so it could spread the cost over time instead of taking a $2.5 million hit at once.
Greenville County has purchased some 800-mHz radios for Greenville County EMS and the Sheriff’s Office and has plans to buy more. The radios have not yet been put in service, according to county spokesman Bob Mihalic.