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A new kind of RV for Manchester fire department

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 08. 2013 11:39PM
The city fire department will be getting a hefty new addition to its fleet, a “Unified Command Vehicle” courtesy of the federal Department of Homeland Security. 

MANCHESTER - The city fire department will get a hefty new addition to its fleet, a "Unified Command Vehicle" courtesy of the federal Department of Homeland Security.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to approve the $600,000 federal grant on Monday, with little discussion.

The board also approved a $102,346 grant for a "Wide Area Digital Network," which the fire department says will allow it to complete a fiber-optic network connecting city facilities.

The command vehicles resemble large motor-homes, but are outfitted with computer consoles, monitors and other equipment. There are four such vehicles in the state, one serving the Seacoast, one in Cheshire County, and two others used by the state Department of Safety, according to Manchester Fire Chief James Burkush.

Burkush said that the vehicle will allow police and fire departments, along with other emergency responders, to coordinate their response to a major incident, such as floods, a large fire or an emergency at the airport.

"This is not designed for run-of-the-mill incidents. It's for large incidents when what's needed is what we call unified command," Burkush said.

Currently, on-scene responses to large incidents are often coordinated out of SUVs, Burkush added.

In addition to the city, the vehicle will serve six surrounding communities, including Hooksett, Goffstown, Litchfield and Bedford.

Only Alderman Phil Greazzo voted against accepting the grant on Monday.

"I guess this is free money from the federal government, but if we don't start refusing this money, we're just going to go deeper into debt," he said. "We already have a plethora of vehicles that show up on scene in emergencies. This is basically an up-fitted motor-home."

Burkush said his department was serving local residents by seeking the federal money.

"We have been able to get money back from Washington that we sent as taxpayers," he said. "If Manchester didn't take this vehicle, then another community in the state would."

Burkush estimated that maintaining and fueling the vehicle would cost his department around $5,000 a year, and he added that a large portion of these costs would be "recoverable" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in disaster response situations.

The approval comes after the city of Keene was embroiled in months of controversy last year over its decision to accept a $285,933 Homeland Security grant to buy a LENCO BearCat armored vehicle. Opponents said the tank-like vehicle was a waste of tax dollars that would militarize the police force.

According to the grant document approved by the aldermen Monday, the vehicle "will handle interoperable communications, data gathering, real-time information sharing and command and control functions for use by Unified Command personnel during emergency situations."

The other $102,000 federal grant will go toward completing the city's "Wide Area Digital Network," specifically fiber-optic connections on the West Side.

Burkush said the grant will allow the city to complete a fiber-optic loop that connects all city and school buildings, enabling communication even when phone and Internet systems are down.

The fire chief said that he's proud that his department has been able to secure a federal grants totalling $4.5 million since 2004.

"These will allow us to protect sites identified by Homeland Security as target hazards," Burkush said, giving as examples Lake Massabesic and the Verizon Wireless Arena. "With these grants we've built security systems that make everyone safer."

The command vehicle still has to be ordered and built to specifications. It should be delivered in six to nine months, Burkush said.

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