Mifflin Township firefighters now are able to communicate effectively to assist local residents, thanks to the recent purchase of new portable radios.
Assistant Fire Chief Fred Kauser said one of the main goals of last year's levy request was to replace and upgrade outdated firefighting equipment.
"At the top of this list are those items that directly impact firefighter performance, including communications devices," he said. "This reflects taking care of residents. They can communicate if they need something inside of a building, and they can send messages out. We improved technology in the pockets of firefighters/paramedics."
Voters approved a 3.8-mill operating levy in May 2011.
The fire division placed into service nearly $160,000 in new radio equipment last week, replacing portable radios that averaged 18 years in age.
Kauser said every fire and EMS vehicle in the fleet was issued a new portable radio, which permits firefighters to communicate with an unprecedented number of police, fire and other emergency-services personnel across the state.
Seventy-five line firefighters work rotating shifts and are assigned a portable radio (28 portable radios available each shift across the division's four fire stations) when they arrive on duty.
Firefighter/paramedic Rob Yorde has been maintaining the radios for the past several years.
"The radios were so old," he said. "The average life is usually five to eight years. Some couldn't key up for us to talk in the middle of a fire. When the levy passed, I said we had to do something. I gave the chief a desperation call that I couldn't keep up with the maintenance. We were sending people out short of radios from time to time."
Yorde said Mifflin has gone from being behind the curve to being ahead of it with the 28 new portable radios and three mobile radios.
"Right now these are the cream of the crop," he said. "Communication is a large part of what we do, and Motorola has designed this portable radio specifically for firefighters."
A few of its features include being water resistant, knobs that are further apart to aid a gloved firefighter, a display on the top and side of the radio, volume control on the speaker microphone and the bright color of the radio for improved visibility in the dark or through smoke.
Yorde said they also feature a shortcut for channels commonly used.
"We run with Columbus a lot," he said. "We can go from our dispatch to Columbus with the touch of a button. It also has a noise cancellation feature that's amazing, filtering out background noise."
Although Mifflin hasn't yet implemented this option, Yorde said, the radio has personal GPS tracking capabilities.
"If we're in a multiple-floor building, you could pinpoint where someone is located," he said. "It can give a 3-D view."
Yorde said the radios are very "firefighter friendly." He said Plain Township had bought a handful of the radios at the beginning of the year.
"The importance of communications, delivering and receiving messages during critical events where the lives of firefighters and our citizens are at stake, cannot be understated," Kauser said. "The radios enhance firefighter safety, enabling them to communicate effectively during emergencies while performing their duties of searching for trapped occupants, working to extinguish the fire and performing rescue-related and life-saving emergency medical skills."