Cherokee County Fire Departments Receive Grant To Replace Radio Communications System


According to information from Cherokee County Sheriff Jeff Shaver, Cherokee County Fire Departments will be receiving a new communications system due to a grant received from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sheriff Shaver would like to congratulate the McCords Fire Department and all the members of the Cherokee County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments. Below is a press release from McCord's Fire Chief Rich Lindsey.


Cherokee County Fire Departments received some much needed good news on Wednesday, July 9th. In a press release issued by Chief Rich Lindsey (McCord’s Fire Department), Chief Lindsey stated that, “Congressman Mike Rogers notified me Wednesday that we had been awarded a $962,632.00 grant to replace the radio communications systems used by Cherokee County fire departments.” The grant was secured through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG). AFG is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which awards grants to fire departments to enhance their ability to protect the public and fire service personnel from fire and related hazards. FEMA will cover 95% of the grant ($914,501.00), and the county fire departments will be responsible for a 5% matching share ($48,131.00). Representative Richard Lindsey has been influential in obtaining a portion of these matching funds. This grant was a regional request in which McCord’s Fire Department was the host department; however, all of the funds will equally benefit all twelve of the volunteer fire departments that are dispatched by Cherokee County 911. These departments include Broomtown, Cedar Bluff, Centre, Ellisville, Gaylesville, Leesburg, McCord’s, Mount Weisner, Sand Rock, Spring Creek, Spring Garden, and Tuckers Chapel Fire Departments. 

A January 2013 federal requirement to narrow-band radio frequencies across the country had unintended consequences for fire departments in Cherokee County. Their radio coverage was reduced to an unsafe level that compromised local fire department operations. The current system, now inadequate, is owned and operated by the Alabama Forestry Commission and was installed in the early 1980s. The leadership of the Cherokee County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments (CCAVFD) quickly recognized the problem and decided to apply for a FEMA grant to replace the outdated system.

The system to be installed will be a Project 25 (P25) radio system, as required by FEMA for all agencies using FEMA funds to build radio systems. P25 is a set of standards for digital radio communications for use by federal, state, and local public safety agencies in North America to enable them to communicate with other agencies and mutual aid response teams in emergencies. This type of radio system has many benefits other than to alleviate a crucial radio coverage issue in the county. A P25 system will allow Cherokee County fire departments to communicate directly with State and Federal agencies, as well as surrounding agencies with P25 systems, in the event of a major incident such as a tornado or some other disaster. The system will be a digital trunking system, which will also improve a capacity issue that the county is currently facing. There are approximately 250 volunteer firemen in Cherokee County, and when disaster strikes, they only have one channel for long range communications and communications with 911 dispatch. The new system will provide many more talk paths. Digital radio transmissions also have much better audio quality, which cuts down on confusion, misinterpretations, and failed radio transmissions.

The CCAVFD has assigned a Radio Communications Committee with the task of designing the new system. The committee consists of Chief Rich Lindsey (McCord’s Fire Dept.), Shawn Rogers (Firefighter, Spring Creek Fire Dept. & Cherokee County Arson Investigator), Chief Butch Jacobs (Spring Garden Fire Dept. & President, CCAVFD), Chairman Johnny Roberts (Cherokee County E-911 Board ), Beverly Daniels (Cherokee County EMA Director & Cherokee County E-911 Board Member), Chief Kevin Ware (Centre Fire Dept. & Cherokee County E-911 Board Member), and Asst. Chief Bobby Joe Stinson (Cedar Bluff Fire Dept.). The committee has also contracted with JMCM Consulting, a consulting firm from Five Points, Alabama, who assists fire departments in writing and administering AFG grants. The committee is already working on a design and will be soliciting proposals from vendors soon. They hope to have the system in place by late 2015.

As a result of these grant funds, the CCAVFD will be able to install all of the equipment necessary to operate a P25 system, including tower equipment, such as antennas, repeaters, and microwave equipment to link the sites together, as well as any equipment required within the 911 dispatch center. Also, each of the twelve departments’ firefighters, as well as each of the departments’ apparatus, will receive a new P25 radio. Based on comparison to other similar systems that have been installed in surrounding areas, this will be a very cost-effective solution for the fire departments’ radio communication problems. While the purpose of this grant is to provide an adequate communications system for the fire departments involved, the benefit could potentially reach far beyond the fire departments. Much of the cost of P25 systems is in the “backbone” of the system itself. These systems are easily added to for a considerably lower cost. Therefore, all of the public safety agencies within the county could use the system in the future. This would break down many communication barriers that currently exist within the county.

Chief Lindsey says, “The fire departments that serve Cherokee County are comprised of volunteers who provide a service to the communities in which they live on a very limited budget for no other compensation other than the satisfaction of helping their fellow neighbors. This project will provide them with a much safer environment in which to work and should allow them to be more effective in their daily operations. This project would have been impossible without the receipt of this grant. This will be the largest single investment that has ever been made in Cherokee County’s Emergency Communications. The result will be immeasurable. On behalf of all Cherokee County’s fire departments, I would like to thank Congressman Mike Rogers, Congressman Robert Aderholt, Representative Richard Lindsey, Senator Gerald Dial, and Dr. Lori Owens for their efforts in securing this grant.”

Chief Lindsey added that, “We are blessed to serve an appreciative and supportive county. Projects such as this one are not possible without the support of the entire county. I would like to personally thank all who support the volunteer fire departments in their community.”