Emergency communication upgrades totaling $1.7 million get underway in Burrillville

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A pie chart on financing for the project shows the largest portion will come from the FEMA grant.

BURRILLVILLE – Major improvements to the town’s emergency communications system, including the dispatch center, radios, cameras and more, are now on the horizon in Burrillville, with a multi-faceted $1.7 million plan made possible through grants, American Rescue Plan Act funding and town money set aside for capital improvements over the last several years.

Earlier this month, the Town Council set in place the final piece of the puzzle, transferring an additional $53,000 in ARPA funds to an account to finance the upgrades.

“We’re happy to be sitting here today to say we’re at this point,” said Burrillville Police Chief Col. Stephen Lynch. “We’ve done quite a bit of leg work in terms of obtaining grant funding.”

The soon-to-begin communications overhaul will include improvements to the police dispatch center to feature a new console, new furniture and a digital camera system. Connectivity for the town’s fire departments will be enhanced thanks to 31 new multiple channel radios, 79 portable radios and mobile repeaters. The Pascoag Utility District and the town’s Department of Public Works will be added to the newer 800 Mhz system for seamless communication on one channel between all types of potential emergency personnel, and repairs will be made to the current VHF system to be used for backup.

And much of the cost will be covered through the grants, including some $956,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the radios, an award that took three application submissions before it was approved.

“That’s a huge achievement for this community and the chiefs who put that package together,” said Lynch, also crediting dispatcher Keith McCarthy with doing much of the work.

“This grant is the largest communications grant in the history of the state of Rhode Island,” said Harrisville Fire Chief Marcel Fontenault. “It’s a long shot. It’s hard to get.”

The town is required to match the FEMA grant with $60,000 for that portion of the project, and funds were taken from federal ARPA money received several years ago. Additional ARPA funds of $97,000 have been set aside for the dispatch center, with another $253,000 for the planned 800 Mhz system changeover.

The state EMA will also kick in, with a grant of $100,000 for the new communications center and PUD put in $10,000 for their radio system upgrade.

The project has been in planning for years, and the town also set aside capital improvement funds in both 2021 and 2022, to the tune of $15,000 and $250,000 respectively.

“This is a $1.7 million project that’s not touching the taxpayer,” said Council President Donald Fox. “We’re looking at a windfall that you don’t often see.”

It’s a project long overdue in Burrillville according to the group of police and fire officials collaborating on the overhaul. The town’s current communications system was installed in the 1980s, and is plagued by outages and dead spots.

“It is imperative that we stay operative with that console,” said Lynch. “That’s 911 lifeline to the community. That ensures the public gets the best services.”

“I don’t recall that we ever put a lot of money into the fire system,” said East Burrillville Fire Chief Joseph Bertholic. “It was always piecemeal.”

Parts to repair the current console, officials noted, are no longer available.

“It’s the best there was when it was put in, but now we’re three decades later,” said McCarthy. “The town definitely got its money’s worth.”

“We do have frequent outages during storms,” McCarthy added. He noted that when calls come in, “We have seconds. Seconds save lives. That’s what we do.”

Lynch said that officials will start meeting next week on the dispatch center project. Other elements of the communications upgrade have already begun.

“You are not going to see this type of request for at least another 25 to 30 years,” said Lynch. “This project gets us to a level where this community deserves to be.”

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