Like many volunteer organizations, the Georgetown-Fruitland Volunteer Fire Department is grateful whenever it receives a donation from a benefactor. In this case, the donation could help save firefighters’ lives.
When the St. Johns River Water Management upgraded its fire radios to match the National Interagency Fire Center’s standards, the agency donated 11 handheld radios to Georgetown-Fruitland volunteers in Putnam County as well as two truck-mounted radios to the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) firefighting operation.
Brent Saulsbury, a burn manager and biologist with the University of Central Florida (UCF), inspects one of two radios the university received from the St. Johns River Water Management District. The equipment is located in UCF’s Department of Emergency Management command trailer for use in responding to major disasters such as wildfires or hurricanes.
“Radios are hard to get and for the St. Johns River Water Management District to donate them is tremendous,” says Paul Kerp, assistant fire chief for Georgetown-Fruitland. “We’ve already put some in service on our trucks and we’ll assign some to our staff. We’re a whole lot safer now.”
District Land Manager Chris Kinslow, who coordinated the donations, says the upgraded radio will enable the District to meet the national transfer to digital radio technology in 2025.
“Our new radios will allow District personnel who are deployed to wildfires, hurricanes or other all hazard incidents to integrate into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s incident command communications structure with limited obstacles,” Kinslow says. “On a more common occurrence, these radios are used by staff during prescribed and wildfires. They are an upgrade in operational capability from the units that have been donated.”
The District bought the new radios using Florida Forest Service Prescribed Fire Enhancement funds. Georgetown-Fruitland and UCF will use the donated District radios for communications among crews and on prescribed fires. The District routinely disposes of items that are obsolete, serve no useful function, are uneconomical or inefficient for continued use, or have exceeded their useful service life. When donation is determined to be the appropriate disposition, the District will first consider Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) communities or schools, including colleges and universities, within the District as recipients.
“Some of the radios were in pieces but we were able to put them together with parts we had on hand,” Kerp says.
UCF installed radios in two fire vehicles to improve communication during prescribed burns and wildfires occurring on its 800-acre property, as well as mutual aid burn requests to federal, state and nonprofit agencies under the Central Florida memorandum of understanding.
“The 40-watt antennae on the donated radios will allow us to transmit information to and from vehicles more than two miles, which wasn’t possible with our old 5-watt handheld models,” says Brent Saulsbury, a UCF burn manager and biologist. “Having these radios is important to the success and safety of our fire program among UCF, Orange County Fire Rescue, Florida Forest Service and interagency partners by improving communications on the fireline and during trainings with all partners.”