contributed $183,100 worth of radio equipment to the Heart of Pine (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department during an episode of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition's. The show built a new home for volunteer firefighter Mizzy Zdroj and improved one of her fire department's stations, both of which were damaged in the massive Bastrop Fire in September.
The Bastrop Fire consumed more than 34,000 acres in Texas and destroyed more than 1,300 homes — including those of 14 out of the fire department's 22 members. Firefighters saved their station by burning a protective line in the grass that stopped the approaching flames, said Heart of Pines Fire Chief Nathan Decker. However, because of the massive fire and the property loss, Decker worried whether the fire might also eliminate his volunteers, who didn't have a place to live much less time to continue helping others or oversee fundraisers required to raise money.
Then, in early December, Decker was informed that not only was one of his displaced firefighters going to be built a new home, but the firehouse also would be renovated.
"The Zdroj family's home burned to the ground and since this was their primary response station, Extreme Makeover decided to do the station also," he said.
While the brick-and-mortar issues at the station are being addressed by the Extreme Makeover team, there also was an issue with the department's outdated communications equipment, which limited its ability to communicate with surrounding agencies, Decker said. He said surrounding Austin/Travis County recently received a grant to upgrade a regional system to 800 MHz to support mutual-aid and countywide communications, but the department couldn't afford to arm each firefighter with a radio.
To help, Motorola Solutions donated 22 APX 7000XE radios, batteries and chargers, XE remote speaker mics, and programming services. The APX 7000XE is a that operates in 700 MHz, 800 MHz and VHF bands.
"It is our high-tier, top-of-the-line radio that was specially designed for the fire service," said Rick Russek, Motorola Solutions' government sales manager.
APX radios have large knobs that can be used with gloved-hands and come equipped with fireground noise-suppression software to enable firefighters in a high-noise environment to communicate, among other features, Russek said. Since the radios are multiband, the department now will be able to communicate directly with fire departments in surrounding areas.
"They've never had that luxury before," he said. "The Austin/Travis County Regional Radio System is the primary means of communications for all fire departments in that area. But most of the smaller volunteer [departments] can't afford to get on that radio system and have that direct communication with all of their backup and mutual-aid partners. So that's another big plus for the fire department."
In fact, it would have taken "two or three fish fries to get one of these radios," Decker said. "There would have been no way we could have done it."
In the past, the chief had to beg and plead for hand-me-down or free radios from surrounding departments. Having working radios is essential as lack of reliable communications can result in confusion and firefighter injury, he said.
"The last two or three weeks before I was surprised I was trying to get radios from other departments in the county that had extra radios they could give to use," Decker said. "It's one of those things as a volunteer fire department … you have to do a lot of begging and bargaining just to get the equipment you need. It is a big burden off my shoulders knowing my [firefighters] are actually going to be able to communicate with each other. It's a huge bonus to this department."