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Schumer Pledges Support for Nassau Fire Departments

Calls on FEMA to approve grant for emergency radio upgrades

United States Senator Charles E. Schumer was given a warm welcome when he visited the Village of Floral Park Fire Department Headquarters on Monday, Jan. 27. Schumer revealed to a small crowd that more than 70 Nassau County fire departments and seven volunteer ambulance corps are facing major budget hikes in order to meet the year-end deadlines to upgrade existing radio equipment due to federal mandates.

Schumer had only the highest of praise for the volunteer firefighters who came from cities across Nassau County, including Stewart Manor, Garden City, Bellerose, New Hyde Park, Great Neck, Island Park, Valley Stream, East Williston, Port Washington, Bayville, Freeport, Wantagh, and Oceanside, Lakeview.

“As you know I care a lot about our firefighters; they are great people. Nassau County volunteer fire departments are among the best in the country,” Schumer said, adding, “They risk their lives, they don’t get paid to make us safe. It’s a great thing and everyone here in this county is blessed by the quality of the fire departments.”

In order to comply with soon-to-be imposed federal mandates, Schumer is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to approve a funding application on behalf of more than 70 Nassau County volunteer fire departments and seven volunteer ambulance corps to purchase the radio equipment that meets the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) frequency mandate.

The importance of having effective communication among first responders is something Schumer said is essential during an emergency situation. “We all learned effectively on 9/11 when there wasn’t good communication,” he said.

Currently, all medical communications between NCPD’s Medical Control, the local fire departments and ambulance companies are conducted over a UHF frequency. The 20-year-old system is considered to be antiquated and not technologically advanced enough to be reprogrammed to meet FCC requirements. The new mandate will require that all emergency communications operate on a narrow-band frequency at 12.5 kHz efficiency and will allow for the creation of additional channel capacity within the same radio spectrum and support more users.

“On Jan. 1, 2013, every emergency unit in the U.S., including every Nassau County fire department and volunteer ambulance company, is required to update their system to this new technology or face fines. Unfortunately, like all improvements, this one costs some money that the county and fire departments don’t have,” Schumer explained.

Individual radios could cost as much as $3,500 per unit and the full upgrade will cost more than half a million dollars for all county departments, according to Schumer. “The bottom line is simple, if the federal government is going to require an expensive federal mandate, then the federal government should help pay for it. The burden should not be placed on either our local fire departments or on the taxpayer,” he said.

It was also announced that Nassau County Police Fire Department in conjunction with fire department and ambulance companies applied for $661,000 in funding, under the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. The monies would enable Nassau County to migrate to a state-of-the-art and FCC-compliant medical communications system.

Schumer said he called FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate that same morning to tell him how important this grant application was. “I am here to pledge to these firefighters and all the men and women that they represent that I do everything I can to see that we get this federal grant,” he told the firefighters.

To illustrate the scope of the equipment needed, Schumer cited the amount of upgrades needed for the Hicksville Fire Department: a total of seven radios for four ambulances, two fire medic cars and a dispatch. The Wantagh Fire Department needs to upgrade five ambulances; one fire medic; one safety car; and a dispatch radio for a total of eight upgrades. “You go across the county and you are going to see that this is going to be an expensive proposition,” Schumer told the crowd.

Floral Park Mayor Tom Tweedy thanked Schumer for his efforts and welcomed him to the village. “You are one of the hardest working senators in Washington,” he said. “I really want to thank you and appreciate all you’re doing on behalf of the various villages,” Tweedy added.

In an interview with the Floral Park Dispatch, Floral Park Fire Chief John Kelleher said with additional grant funding, he hopes communications among the ambulance companies will improve for the betterment of the community. “It’s going to be essential because they are no longer going to be providing low-band radios, so now we are going to need this newer higher band radio…this is a major improvement,” Kelleher said.

Floral Park’s Fire Commissioner and Village Trustee Mary-Grace Tomecki also advocated the importance of receiving the grant in these difficult economic times. “Senator Schumer has always been a good friend to the Village of Floral Park and we are grateful for his assistance once again, in our efforts to minimize the impact of unfunded mandates on our residents. Moreover, by helping us to secure funding for a MedCom radio system for our ambulance, as well as those of neighboring companies, he is ensuring that Floral Park’s all-volunteer Rescue Company is able to maintain communications, while living up to its motto ‘Forever vigilant, always prepared.’”