County agrees to kick in $274,000 for emergency radios for fire, rescue crews

Becker County has agreed to give nearly $274,000 to the 14 fire departments and rescue squads in the county for ARMER radios. Tuesday evening at an annual budget meeting, the board unanimously agreed to help the departments, but not after a full ...

Becker County has agreed to give nearly $274,000 to the 14 fire departments and rescue squads in the county for ARMER radios.

Tuesday evening at an annual budget meeting, the board unanimously agreed to help the departments, but not after a full circle of discussion on how much to give.

“They’re running out of time,” County Administrator Jack Ingstad said of the fire departments needing to know what the county will provide for funds because the group of 10 fire departments is applying for a FEMA grant to provide the rest of the funding. The grant application is due Friday.

The Becker County Sheriff’s Office is making the switch to ARMER radios this month, and while there will a patching system in place for the VHF system to continue, there will be a delay between the two systems.

“We’re quite proud (of the switch to ARMER), but it’s causing some issues for the local departments,” Ingstad said.


He added that the county is sympathetic to the fire departments because the county had some of the same issues between state patrol and county when the state made a similar upgrade.

So with an estimated cost of $927,000 for all 10 fire departments to make the switch to ARMER, the county has been debating how to help. Last year the departments attempted the same FEMA grant for about $500,000 but were denied.

The grant can only be used for fire departments, not rescue squads.

The grant is a 90/10 match – 90 percent from FEMA and 10 percent from the fire departments.

Besides the 10 percent for the grant, the county had talked about providing each fire department and rescue squad in the county with two ARMER radios. The departments would then have to figure out a way to purchase the remaining radios, hopefully with the grant money.

That cost for radios was estimated at $72,000 for 28 radios.

The commissioners were in favor of providing the 10 percent match for the grant because the county’s support would cause the departments’ application to score higher.

It can take up to a year to be awarded the grant.


Wolf Lake Fire Chief Dale Hillukka said he would rather place an order for all the radios at once rather than getting two now and two later and so on. He said that with the radio models changing, though they would all still work together, they could be different and cause a delay if a firefighter doesn’t know how to operate the radio as well as another model the department would use.

“We want to switch to ARMER,” he said. “We don’t want to be caught in the middle.”

Commissioner Barry Nelson said the county should offer two radios to each department and each department can decide if they want to take the radios now or wait a year and see if they get the grant and order them all at once.

Becker County Sgt. Shane Richard, who has been heading the ARMER switch for the sheriff’s office, said he used the Apex 4000 model for cost estimate purposes because it is middle of the line.

The fire departments used the Apex 6000 radios for cost estimate purposes though when it came to figuring for the grant, which is where the $927,000 figure came from. But if the departments kept the Apex 6000 for the trucks and dispatch (which is needed for their abilities) and switch the handhelds to Apex 4000, that would save about $166,000.

With every little bit the departments can shave off their grant request, the better the chances of receiving the money.

The four rescue squads throughout the county estimate they need about $22,000 to make the switch to ARMER.           

City Alderman Ron Zeman said the county board should “bite the bullet” and pay the nearly $1 million for all of the radios to protect all of the citizens of the county.


“To buy two radios, that’s nice but it’s not going far,” he said.

The commissioners said they obviously aren’t going to do that upfront because the fire departments need to apply for the grant again first.

The board of commissioners did agree to pay $200,000 though, with 10 percent being saved for the grant and the remainder of the money to buy each department two ARMER system radios.

Hillukka said that while that’s appreciated, it would actually work better for the fire departments on the grant application if the county would just use the money to buy radios for the departments, thus lowering the total needed for the grant even more. He said the departments think they can raise the 10 percent from city and township support.

Which brought the meeting full circle because another option had been proposed weeks earlier for the county to purchase 106 radios – based on each department’s own assessment of their needs – at the cost of $273,904.

Without little more discussion, the board unanimously agreed to give the fire departments and rescue squads the $273,904 for ARMER radios.

Hillukka asked the county board what will happen if the grant is denied again this year. Commissioner Ben Grimsley said not to worry about it because there are always financing options.

Commissioner Larry Knutson said that after the fire department have approached local governments, they will have to come back to the county to ask for more.


Commissioner Barry Nelson said the county “needs you there” so not to worry because the board would support the departments.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield .

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