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      $660K coming to Marion to improve first responder communication

      Marion County has been awarded $660,415 to provide more efficient on scene communications and a safer working environment for all nine fire departments in the county, as well as EMS.

      Marion County Emergency Director Brandon Ellis said the grant is part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program and will provide 131 portable and 52 mobile radios. The new radios are state of the art and can operate on both digital and analog systems.

      Marion Rural Volunteer Fire Department applied for and was awarded the grant.

      Ellis added that the county still plans to rebuild a 400-foot tower that collapsed during a storm in Mullins more than two years ago and is still causing some communication issues between first responders and 911 dispatchers.

      Time Warner Cable owned the tower, which stood in a field off Milton Troy Avenue. The tower housed equipment that allowed officers in Nichols and Mullins to talk to dispatchers and each other on their radios, according to Marion County Administrator Tim Harper.

      After the storm, the tower wasn't structurally sound so the company tore it down and the county put up a temporary 50-foot tower, but radio communications are still weak.

      An antenna was also put on a water tower in Nichols to help strengthen communications.

      Harper said Marion County Council has approved $150,000 to build a new tower on a site in Mullins.

      However, the soil on the property is being tested and officials are waiting for those results.

      "That way we got the right soil to put the tower on. If it's not right, the tower could collapse again," said Harper.

      He added if everything is right with the soil a new tower could be up in the next 90 days.