Miami County commissioners approved the purchase for $2.5 million of the backbone of a new radio system that will allow police, firefighters and rescue workers to communicate easier with other agencies


The Sept. 17 vote followed extensive review by the Miami County Communication Center, its board and a consultant of options and negotiations with system manufacturer Motorola Solutions.


The purchase does not include new or updates to nearly 900 communication radios used by police, fire and EMS workers across the county. Those purchases will come later.


The county also continues discussions with the Ohio Multi-Agency Radio Communication System, or MARCS, on the type of relationship the county will have with that organization.


Jeff Busch, Communication Center director, answered questions from commissioners before the vote.


He said the switch to the new P25 system will put the center on a platform that can be attached to the MARCS system to “would allow our firefighters, police officers to communicate in a more proficient manner when they are assisting or need assistance from agencies in surrounding counties.”


Montgomery and Clark counties are on the platform while other neighboring counties are working in that direction, he said.


The new backbone will continue to use the center’s system of communication towers, microwave system and other equipment purchased by the county for more than $6 million some five years ago.


“All of those put us in position to move to interoperability … it was a wise investment, and we will continue to use it,” Busch said.


Commissioner John “Bud” O’Brien thanked Busch and his staff for work on the new system.


Busch said possibilities for grants for smaller departments are being explored and commissioners earlier were asked if the county can help pay for radios. A decision on county participation has not been made.


The county pays for the center operation and system backbone and system maintenance through the county sales tax. The cost of radio purchases has remained largely with local governments and volunteer departments. 


A chart shared with the center board Aug. 26 shows how many radios each agency has, how many can be upgraded, how many new would be needed and the estimated cost per department.


For example, the estimated cost for Troy fire and police departments was listed as $70,000 and $158,000, respectively.


For Tipp City, the following numbers were listed: EMS, $12,100; fire, $20,700; and police department, $57,000. The sheriff’s department was $122,000.


Board member Jan Mottinger of the Bradford Fire Department said the department is looking at close to $50,000 for radios. “I agree we should change,” he said of the overall communication system.


He added, though, the radios are the big question.   “How are they going to do it?” Mottinger asked of agencies, including those volunteer-based.


Busch told commissioners Sept. 16 he planned to attend the county fire chiefs meeting that evening to discuss grant possibilities.


Among them are a state fire marshal’s grant program for departments serving less than 25,000 people and a FEMA program that is open to all size communities and requires a 10 percent match of funds.