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September 21, 2023

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New radio communications in BG: MARCS brings better coverage for first responders

MARCS 1 – Photo by Tim Ricketts

Bowling Green has a new radio communications system to fill in a dead zone that could have turned dangerous situations into life-threatening ones.

Bowling Green Fire Department Fire Chief Bill Moorman applied for a grant from the Toledo Chamber of Commerce two years ago to bring the Multi-Agency Radio Communications System to the city at the Ohio Department of Transportation facility at the corner of South Mitchell Road and Sand Ridge Road.

First responders in Wood County, such as the BGFD, Bowling Green Police Department and the BGSU Police Department, had previously used the VHF radio system, which Moorman said caused trouble for communications in the streets and especially in buildings.

So, he applied for and received $500,000 to build a 300-foot MARCS radio tower.

Firefighters, police officers, emergency services and other first responders can now communicate more effectively indoors and outdoors, Moorman said.

Their radios are also more dependable in the west end of Bowling Green, an area previously not covered by nearby MARCS towers.

One of the biggest issues that previously existed in the dead zone was insufficient in-building coverage. Moorman said the previous communications system could not easily penetrate the walls of some buildings in the city and on campus.

“I’m sure you can imagine how dangerous that is,” Moorman said.

In the case of dire threats like active shooters and fires, communication between first responders must be reliable and effective. Moorman said MARCS provides reliability, as well as easier communication with emergency services in other counties and cities not in the radius of Bowling Green’s MARCS tower.

If emergency services in Bowling Green need assistance from a police department outside their county, they can call for it. And if a municipality needs help from the BGFD, they are on the sam system and can switch to the appropriate channel.

Prior to the new tower’s construction, the only other tower in Wood County was at the eastern border in Bradner, Ohio.

MARCS’ webpage on the Ohio Department of Administrative Services website says the minimum requirement for mobile coverage is 97.5%. Moorman said coverage like this is vital, and Bowling Green’s is now “somewhere in the 90% range.”

“It’s kind of my baby,” he said.

But the higher quality comes with a higher price tag. The BGFD ordered 40 radios, which would have cost over $50,000. But since the BGFD isn’t the only department in Bowling Green that ordered new radios, MARCS offered a discount due to the high demand in a concentrated area.

The Bowling Green City Council approved $350,000 from American Rescue Plan funds to be directed toward purchasing more radios and communications equipment for the BGPD.

Individual radios require a monthly $10 subscription fee. The price of MARCS is one of the reasons the Wood County Sheriff’s Office is not switching over.

Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said his officers, departments in Perrysburg and a few others in the county are remaining on their current systems. His department will still use the VHF radios, which he said work well and are inexpensive to maintain.

Radios, much like cellphones and other electronics, have to be replaced on a regular basis or switch batteries to continue working efficiently.

The MARCS system still works with other systems like VHF, which Wasylyshyn said avoids issues with the three radio systems he dispatches from: MARCS, VHF and the Lucas county system.

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Another reason Wasylyshyn isn’t switching over is the representation on the MARCS steering committee.

“Their board has no representation of sheriffs, of fire chiefs. It’s all state-run, state-administrative,” he said.

He said he still supports the BGFD, BGPD, BGSUPD and other departments that made the move to MARCS.

BGSUPD Police Chief Michael Campbell said his department’s decision to switch was the interoperability of MARCS.

“We can work across departments, across systems. It’s what works for us,” he said.

Campbell said there were no specific instances on campus that showed the need for better in-building coverage. Switching to MARCS is more of a preventative measure than a reactionary one.

MARCS also saves local businesses money. Buildings in the city must meet fire and safety standards with their walls to allow for the best communication possible among first responders.

“It’s a game changer for the city,” Moorman said.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the tower will be held on April 26 at 10 a.m.

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