Fire Department and business incubator get grants

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 23, 2012

Sterling Heights is celebrating two recent windfalls that will support initiatives within the Fire Department and at the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator.

The Sterling Heights Fire Department has netted nearly $50,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which will be directed toward replacing aging mobile data computers in 14 apparatuses.

Interim Fire Chief Michael Deprez said the department plans to purchase and install the devices upon receipt of formal documentation from the federal government containing “the timetable of everything that needs to be done.”

“As soon as they give us the actual ‘go date’ … the immediate ball will start in action, and it’ll be a seamless process,” he said. “I feel comfortable that certainly by March, April, we’ll be up and running with all the new computers.”

The total project cost is $61,446, with the grant covering $49,157 and the city picking up the $12,289 balance, he said.

According to Deprez, the computers — identical to mobile units already acquired by the Sterling Heights Police Department — “are really going to position us to continually have state-of-the-art information at our fingertips.”

After decades of relying on different platforms, Sterling’s police officers and firefighters recently shifted to a computer-aided 911 dispatch system powered by New World integrated software, which allows dispatchers to send information simultaneously to both entities, said Deprez.

“That allows them to get accurate, real-time information, both to the police and the Fire Department, at the very same time,” he said.

But advanced software, said Deprez, has little benefit if the hardware isn’t up to snuff. The SHFD’s current mobile computers are nearly eight years old, and were “plagued with frequent breakdowns, costly repairs and inability to find replacement parts, in many cases,” he said.

“We’re using very old computers, older technology, so our IT department really had to take great pains and strains, basically, on keeping them working,” he said. “You can spend a million on a (computer-aided dispatch) system … but if your computer can’t use every aspect of the system, really, what good is it?”

With the city strapped for cash, the Police and Fire departments sought grants to help foot the bill for new mobile equipment. The police got theirs, but the firefighters didn’t — until now, said Deprez.

“We kept writing for grants and looking for grant opportunities until we were finally successful with this federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant,” he said, expressing gratitude to U.S. Reps. Candice Miller and Sander Levin, and state Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow for helping make it a reality.

Besides supplying “critical incident information” to first responders en route to an emergency, the mobile units will provide intuitive navigation services, access to the city’s geographic information mapping system and pre-fire survey/hazard information, and will be fully integrated with records management, he said.

Meanwhile, staffers at the Macomb-OU INCubator, located on the campus of the Velocity business development center in Sterling Heights, are celebrating word that the facility will receive $500,000 from the Michigan Strategic Fund.

Business Development Manager Denice Gerstenberg, who called grant funding “very important” to furthering the INCubator’s efforts, said the staff applied for the grant in November 2011, submitting a strategic plan and a budget in pursuit of $2 million.

Details on the grant remain nebulous, pending a meeting with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to hash out the specifics.

“They are meeting with MEDC to see what they can use the $500,000 for,” she said.

The INCubator offers support to fledgling companies by providing access to a plethora of resources, including experts in marketing, financing and business planning.