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BOLIVIA—After several months of delays at the state level, Brunswick County firefighters can finally switch on their emergency radios.
Emergency Services Director Anthony Marzano told members of the local emergency planning committee last Wednesday that as of 9:03 a.m. Tuesday morning, Feb. 20, Brunswick County fire departments switched to the VIPER radio transmitting system.
The county has received 365 portable VIPER radios and installed 116 mobile radios in emergency vehicles, but couldn’t use them until service was established.
The equipment could not be connected to the system until identification code (ID) software was provided by the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
“The IDs are like the operating system in a computer. Without it, the computer doesn’t work,” Marzano said.
The county had 580 requests for IDs outstanding and received 400 of the IDs in January.
“This room was filled with radio equipment a couple weeks ago,” Marzano said.
The new IDs increase VIPER service in the county, but Marzano said there are still a few departments that have not yet switched to the VIPER equipment.
The bulk of the radios that are still not in use are installed in fire vehicles. The county has 22 fire departments that received either mobile or portable radios depending on their number of trucks and employees.
Marzano said they have already re-filed with the state to receive the 180 remaining IDs the county still needs.
The fire departments have enough of the portable, or handheld, radios to distribute to the chiefs, captains, lieutenants and engines so that they can communicate.
“Our priority was to get the portables covered with the fire service,” Marzano said.
Emergency services also used some of the new IDs for Boiling Spring Lakes’ police department.
Upgrading to the VIPER communication system began in January 2011.
The county has received a grant from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and two Port Security grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with $1.9 million funded by the Brunswick County, Marzano said.
The Leland volunteer fire and rescue squad, a nonprofit organization, served as grant applicant.
The county purchased radios for fire, EMS, police and the sheriff’s office.
“We’re basically done. We may have to shift some equipment, but I told the departments if they want to add equipment they have to purchase it on their own,” Marzano said.
The county also has a three-year contract with Wireless NC to install, program and maintain the radios.
Marzano said the new radios meet current and future standard for the VIPER program. The next upgrade is called Project 25.
“We’ve purchased everything to be ready when (VIPER) upgrades. When they start reprogramming the radios, we’ll be ready,” Marzano said. “Our radios are as future-proof as we can get.”
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.