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East Otter Tail County fire departments receive more than $500,000 in grants

The FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program announced several award recipients Feb. 17, including the Perham Fire Department, which was the host applicant for nine departments in eastern Otter Tail County.

The communities that will benefit from the $528,340 grant include Bluffton, Deer Creek, Dent, Henning, New York Mills, Ottertail, Parkers Prairie, Perham and Vining. The grant will allow the departments to integrate communications with the 800 MHz regional radio system (trunked radio system) developed by the state of Minnesota. The new system will support the departments' cooperative efforts, particularly in response to regional emergencies. The system ensures communications interoperability among local, regional, state and federal first responders.

The nine participating fire departments serve nearly 21,000 residents in a 1,127 square mile area. When tornadoes ripped through the region June 17, 2010, communications were severely limited and emergency responders were unable to coordinate their response. The 800 MHz system, however, will allow the departments to remain in communication with each other and to coordinate emergency response operations. An excerpt from the grant application summarizes the profound benefit these communities will receive:

"[A] significant list of emergency response agencies and their personnel will instantly and dramatically improve communications and eliminate problems. They will be set to protect schools, congregate living buildings, transportation systems, energy generation and wheeling, petroleum and natural gas transmission and pumping facilities, telecommunications providers, hospitals and clinics, critical public infrastructure and a large industrial sector."

Lieutenant Matthew McGuire of the Otter Tail Sheriff's Department helped prepare the grant application.

"With this grant funding, the fire departments that service about 21,000 persons in these communities will be better equipped to provide fire and first responder protection. Our dispatch center will also be able to communicate more effectively with these departments in areas that have at times been out of range with our current communication system," said McGuire.

The grant will help ensure the departments have the equipment and training they need to continue to protect the citizens, properties and infrastructure of eastern Otter Tail County.

The AFG program was created in 2001 to support communities' firefighting and emergency response needs.

Senior funding specialist Pat Conroy of Widseth Smith Nolting worked with the Perham Fire Department and the eight other fire departments to prepare and submit the application. "This is a wonderful accomplishment for the departments," Conroy said. "My congratulations to all of them. I enjoyed working with them, and it's just great to see the AFG grant come through."

In addition to its funding assistance services, WSN provides engineering, architecture, land surveying, and environmental services to communities throughout Minnesota and the upper Midwest.