Champaign Fire Dept. to receive grant

By Brittney Nadler

The Champaign Fire Department is one of nine Illinois departments that will be receiving a $10,000 grant from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to help maintain emergency communications equipment, said Steve Clarkson, Champaign Fire Department deputy fire chief. 

The equipment is part of a portable trailer called the Illinois Transportable Emergency Communications Suite, or ITECS. Nine ITECS are located throughout the state that serve to improve the interoperability between emergency responders when normal communication is not possible, Clarkson said. 

“We’ve struggled before,” said Mike Bayless, communications lead of the Champaign Fire Department. “As we took possession of the trailer, the agreement was that each agency who hosted (an ITECS) was responsible for updating and maintaining the equipment with the price of a lot of equipment on the trailer. It’s difficult to do that.”

If a disaster is experienced in a part of the state, the areas that are unaffected send their ITECS to aid the communication in the area, Clarkson said. The last time the Champaign ITECS was used was during 2011 flooding in Marion, Ill.

“Those are really vital pieces of emergency communications equipment that we strategically staged around the state,” said Patti Thompson, media contact for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. “There had to be a response agency that took responsibility for that piece of equipment.”

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The department has owned the trailer since 2006 and Bayless estimates that radios, batteries and satellite equipment that provide wireless Internet will be updated or replaced with the grant. Physical parts of the trailer, such as the axel, which was undersized when it was purchased and is in need of an upgrade before it breaks and damages the trailer, will also be maintained, Bayless said. 

“The problem we’re getting into now is that the updates are no longer being provided for the hardware that’s on there, so the hardware itself has to be upgraded which is hopefully what this money from IEMA will allow us to do,” he said. 

The grant money comes from the state’s Sept. 11 fund, a fund that is specially designated to help with response organizations and victims of terrorism, Thompson said.

“(The Sept. 11 fund) is money that comes from the special license plates that say ‘America Remembers,’” she said. “That’s a special license plate that people can get, and there’s an additional fee on those special plates that add fees that go into the Sept. 11 fund.”

The money has not yet been received by the department, although all departments have been made aware of the grant, Thompson said.

Brittney can be reached at [email protected].