MSU Police donates radio equipment to Gallatin County rural fire departments
From MSU News Service
BOZEMAN – In emergency services, if one department is in trouble then every department is, and in Gallatin County, the fire and police departments are a tight-knit community who help each other whenever and wherever it’s needed.
And so, a few years ago, when the county began to update its radio infrastructure, some smaller rural fire departments were concerned they would be left without the means to communicate properly. Upgrading systems is expensive and posed a challenge for some of those rural districts.
In a group effort, the Montana State University Police Department, Bozeman Police Department and Bozeman Fire Department have donated several pieces of used radio equipment to fire departments across the county. Despite being older, the equipment is still effective, is capable of using the new infrastructure and will keep the rural departments online.
“We were fortunate enough to acquire the new equipment that was needed a couple years ago, but as we get closer to go-day for the new system, we felt it was very important for everybody to have the ability to talk,” said Mike Stanley, assistant chief of UPD.
Gallatin County’s updates are part of a statewide effort to upgrade emergency services radio systems. The Gallatin County 911 Center is upgrading to an 800 MHz ultra-high frequency platform which gives departments the power, coverage and ability to talk over their radios without interference from buildings. According to Tim Mardindale, director of the Gallatin County 911 Center, the county hopes to have the new system fully online by the spring or summer.
Between September and October 2020, UPD and the Bozeman police and fire departments began working with the 911 Center to donate their previously used equipment. UPD donated 30 portable radios, which a person can carry, and 10 mobile radios, which are permanently mounted in a vehicle. Bozeman Police donated about 60 portables and 27 mobiles, while Bozeman Fire donated between 25 and 30 radios.
The departments who will receive the equipment include the Three Forks Fire Department, Fort Ellis Fire Department, Gallatin Gateway Rural Fire Department, Manhattan Volunteer Fire Department, Amsterdam Rural Fire Department, Willow Creek Fire Department and Gallatin Search and Rescue.
“In emergency services, all first responders work together, and we never know when we could be dealing with a very small rural fire department on a big incident,” said Jim Veltkamp, interim chief of police in Bozeman. “The sheriff’s department works with the smaller departments all the time, and if we can’t all communicate together, that can create problems on any incident.”
After the donations were delivered to the 911 Center, radio technicians reprogrammed the usable equipment to work on the new system. After reprogramming, the radios were ready to be delivered to the rural departments. Martindale said the process has been going on for the last several weeks and will continue over the next few weeks.
“It’s great to see the bigger departments help out the smaller departments. The process has been smooth and there’s been no issue here whatsoever,” Martindale said. “The chiefs all offered up on their own to do this. It’s great to see the community mindset and have a collaboration between the departments so we can come to the common goal of keeping Gallatin County safe.”
Stanley, Veltkamp and Bozeman Fire Chief Josh Waldo each said the project was easy to execute because of the strong relationship between the university and the city. Each department has the common goal of creating a safe environment for those in the Bozeman community, as well as outside its city limits when called for help.
“Any time we can find a way to help each other out, whether it’s this radio project, when the gym roofs collapsed on campus, planning for football games, concerts or even making sure move-in weekend is safe, the relationship between the city and university is about as strong as I’ve ever seen,” Waldo said.
Mike Ulmen, fire chief for the Manhattan Volunteer Fire Department, said he was grateful to be one of the recipients of the donations and that his department’s radios are currently being serviced by the 911 Center. Ulmen spoke to the camaraderie of the police, fire and emergency response departments in the county and how in 40 years of serving as a firefighter there has always been a “help your neighbor” mentality for everyone involved.
“I’ve had other chiefs from other states and counties say how well Gallatin County works together among police, fire and EMS, which is not true in every county or state,” he said. “Gallatin County really has a good deal because of how we all get along so well.” •