The Monroe Township Fire Department will soon be able to communicate better with other emergency response agencies throughout the state thanks to a $76,523 federal grant.

The Monroe Township Fire Department will soon be able to communicate better with other emergency response agencies throughout the state thanks to a $76,523 federal grant.

The Assistance to Firefighters grant will upgrade the department's entire communications system with new radio devices that can transmit statewide, said fire chief Dudley Wright.

"Most larger communities have moved to 800 megahertz, which is a more modern spectrum of radio frequencies and it allows for better transmission of data," Wright said.

He said Franklin and Delaware counties currently use the upgraded radio system.

"When your neighboring counties switch technologies it's kind of like, 'Guys, we're switching technologies you need to buy this other stuff to be able to communicate with us,' and I think that's tough," Wright said.

"In the event of a disaster, having the ability to communicate with any other agency in the state of Ohio is a tremendous asset."

The grant money will help buy seven new handheld radios, several new laptops and update older computer systems to communicate effectively between fire trucks, the station and other emergency agencies.

"You can actually fill out fire and EMS reports right from the computer," Wright said, "so rather than writing a paper report like we do now and bring it back to the fire station (to retype into the computer) we can avoid that duplication of labor."

Wright said the grant would finance 95 percent of the communication devices while the township would provide the remaining 5 percent, or $4,027, in matching funds.

"It will give the ability for all of our staff to respond with their own radios so everybody will have communications during the emergency," Wright said.

"Right now if we go to New Albany, the truck we take may have one or two portable radios but then there's other people that have to operate that emergency scene without a radio and that's dangerous."

Wright said the Monroe Township fire department provides service to Monroe Township, the village of Johnstown, and parts of Jersey Township, New Albany, Liberty Township, and McKean Township.

"This grant will provide us with a sufficiency of radios that we now can function when we respond to those other communities or potentially in the future with those communities," Wright said.

He said he applied for the grant for 2010, but didn't receive the award.

Joseph Robertson, Monroe Township board of trustees president, said the township actually contemplated purchasing the radios as part of its capital improvements for 2011.

Robertson said he's glad the township received the grant because it will save taxpayers money.

As a small township, "we have to pick and choose wisely when it comes to capital improvements because our budgets are smaller and we're not at the luxury of some of the larger departments to spend heavily," Robertson said.

The fire department received several grants over the years including in 2007 to help hire two new firefighters, in 2008 to purchase a new ladder truck, and in 2009 to pay for a new sprinkler system throughout the entire department facility.

"One of the challenges is communities have a tremendous trouble acquiring new technology and new capital assets and we've been very fortunate in our township that a lot of our capital asset improvements have been funded by grants," Wright said.

There are currently 13 full-time firefighters as well as several volunteers. Wright said they responded to more than 1,800 emergencies in 2010.

He said the upgraded system will allow firefighters to communicate more easily and possibly save more lives.

"It's kind of bringing us to the 21st century, and I think we're fortunate," he said.