By Cole Parkinson
As the Municipal District of Taber continues to look at upgrading their radio units, they have approached Town of Vauxhall council to pitch in for their station.
A delegation of Nathan Cote, M.D. regional fire chief and director of emergency management, and M.D. CAO Arlos Crofts were virtually in council chambers to make the request. The pair first touched on the cost that would come to the town in their budget.
“There is a bit of an increase that we have been talking about over the last two or three fire authority meetings. Where that increase comes from is two projects that we’re trying to do in the 2022 year,” explained Cote. “The first one is, and probably the major one, is migration to the AFRRCS (Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System) radio system. All-in-all, we’re looking at about for the Vauxhall department alone $84,000 investment into that radio system and everything that goes into that. The second part is a bit of an AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) upgrade as well when it comes to our tablets and modems and things like that within the units for our GPS.”
Crofts explained the cost of the upgrade to AFRRCS.
“He (Cote) referenced that $84,000, but if you look at the actual impact on the operating budget, looking at the 2021 budget $53,939.38 with a proposed 2022 budget of $94,817.75. That is a result of the proposed AFRRCS project, primarily,” added Crofts.
Cote further explained budget impacts for the town.
“The total cost for Vauxhall for the AFRRCS radios is $84,000 and change, but the agreement states the Town of Vauxhall pays 22 per cent of that, so the total cost for both of those projects is $102,314,” he added. “You guys in turn will only be paying 22 per cent or 25 per cent of that ($102,314), depending on what the agreement reads.”
There was also a line in the budget that saw a $24,000 influx of cash removed, which was explained to council by Cote.
“When Brian Schafer worked for the M.D. of Taber and Town of Vauxhall, that $24,000 was paid by AHS towards his salary. That was a revenue coming in, but with him not being here any longer, that portion is not an incoming revenue for us,” stated Cote.
With the AFRRCS system being picked up across the province by emergency services, it was explained why the time was right to make the jump.
On top of their current system failing, the advantages of keeping first responders safe brought by AFRRCS is much needed. While it is a big chunk of money to commit, it was explained to council the system would be a major upgrade for their first responders.
“It’s a digital system the province put together for a radio communications system that would work for all emergency services. So, police are beginning to use that, RCMP are moving towards it if they haven’t already, Alberta Health Services uses it, Town of Taber is using it, a lot of neighbouring municipalities are using it or shifting towards it,” continued Cote.
“Currently, we’re running our repeater systems ourselves and we have to replace and upkeep all of those repeaters and towers. With the AFRRCS radio system, the system belongs to the province of Alberta. They created the system and we plan on being users of the system. All we have to pay for moving forward is the radios themselves. They are fairly costly, as you guys can tell, but as we move forward in that system, it’s just replacement and upkeep of the radios themselves.”
Council asked how long the radios would be serviceable for.
“On average, they are expected to last 10 plus years. The longer we can get out of them, the better. I believe the first few years, I don’t think they’ll be much for cost on repair or maintenance on them,” replied Cote.
With the upgrade being a big-budget expense for the town, council asked how crucial it was to move towards AFRRCS and if it was possible to split the cost over several years.
“This is a system being proposed to be put into place for the first responders and to enhance the safety of the first responders. They actually find themselves in the scenario of deadlines, which is a significant challenge of communicating with one another,” explained Crofts.
“What is being proposed is for them and not necessarily administration per se. This was something expressed to us by the first responders that they felt was important to them.”
With the province putting the system into place, council asked if there were any grants or financial support to purchase the radios.
“I would say the province’s perspective is likely that they invested in the core infrastructure of the network. So they have put a significant amount of money into the core infrastructure. So, the radios is what we would be responsible for,” stated Crofts. “I see it as something that is quickly becoming a core requirement to provide emergency services.”
Cote also explained the current state of their radio system. While it was the cream of the crop when it debuted, times have changed and the years have left the radios behind.
“What we’re finding is our radio system is getting a little older and a little dated. It was a phenomenal system back in its day when it was created, but as time has moved on, it is getting dated and causing some outage problems. It’s creating some gaps in service and coverage,” said Cote.
In previous tests and trials with the AFRRCS system, the M.D. fire departments were happy with how the radios performed across the municipality.
“Our coverage seems to be quite a bit better, with much clearer capabilities, and intractability with other stakeholders like police, fire, and EMS. It really does lend a hand to first responder safety and that we have good radio coverage that doesn’t break down when we need it the most,” continued Cote.
With a potential hefty cost coming in 2022, council also inquired about any other major capital projects that may come down. They expressed their concern around having a hefty amount brought forward in the near future to go along with the AFRRCS upgrade.
“At the end of the day, it’s a collaborative venture moving forward. It’s not something we want to push on people and have you guys looking that way,” said Cote. “We want to work with you as absolute best we can and be able to move this project forward. We feel it is of utmost importance by jumping in on a council meeting to discuss it with you and answer any questions. We would try our best to not to put you guys over the next three, four, five years into another major project like this one is going to.”
Council explained to the delegation this request would be a part of their coming budget deliberations.