By Danielle Ameden/Daily News staff
Milford Daily News
Jacob Belcher/Daily News staff
Milford Fire Chief John Touhey, left, chats with congressman Richard Neal, center, and Sen. Richard Moore at the Birch St. fire station in Milford to award a $147k federal grant for the Fire Department Monday morning. Money will be used for new radios for the firefighters and for three new radio consoles for the town's emergency dispatch center.
At the time, only fire officers could communicate over the airwaves, but that soon changed when everyone on the roll call was issued a portable radio.
"It's a safety issue: The ability to communicate with the firefighters when they're in hazardous areas, they're in smoke-filled buildings fighting a fire," said John Touhey, who is now the chief.
With those original radios now pushing 30 years old, officials are lauding the department for landing a competitive federal grant for $163,000 to deliver an upgrade.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-2nd, state Sen. Richard Moore, D-Uxbridge, and Milford Board of Selectmen Chairman Brian Murray were on hand yesterday to celebrate the good news.
After stopping by the Birch Street fire headquarters, Neal said Milford did well to receive the Assistance to Firefighters grant.
He said the application process is "very, very competitive" for the program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"This highlights the role that first responders play in our domestic security every day, so I was thrilled that the Department of Public Security looked favorably upon this request," Neal said.
The grant will also pay for three new computer-based radio communication consoles for the town's emergency dispatch center at the police station.
Bill Touhey, Milford's deputy chief, applied for the money last year.
The federal government pays 90 percent, or $147,000, of the grant and Milford is responsible for coming up with a $16,000 match.
Chief Touhey said he can tap the department's gift account - which is largely fed by annual donations from local companies Biomeasure Inc. and Benjamin Moore & Co. - and won't have to look for money in a tight budget year.
"It gives us the ability to accept these gifts under these grants without having to go back to Town Meeting," he said.
Touhey and Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin have been going after grant money to upgrade and expand the shared dispatch center, which is now expected to be done by summer.
While O'Loughlin has received money for furniture and other work, Touhey said the high-tech radio consoles are "the guts" of the project.
Touhey said Milford has been unsuccessful applying for funds for new fire trucks under the firefighters grant, but has had good luck getting money for other necessities in recent years.
This is the fourth time Milford has received the grant, said Bill Touhey.
The past awards have paid for new pagers for off-duty personnel, a vehicle exhaust removal system for the Birch Street station, and, last year, new breathing masks for the firefighters.
The latest funds to upgrade the portable radios are "very important," said the deputy.
He recalled the olden days when firefighters didn't have radios, which his brother said was "the norm back then."
Chief Touhey said the grant will pay for 36 of the radios, which most firefighters wear in the front pocket of their coats. Touhey said he will scrape up money to get the total of 40 that are needed for the department.
As for applying again this year, Touhey said fire officials are considering going for funds for new gear for the firefighters.