Hood River County has a new tool at its disposal for responding to emergencies.
A mobile communications vehicle has gone into service thanks to some creativity and a whole bunch of volunteer hours.
Tom Rousseau, a retired engineer and HAM radio operator, spent 300 hours helping to design and install the communications equipment in the vehicle.
Rousseau, who is also a member of the mountain rescue group Crag Rats, saw the vehicle as an opportunity to help out both his volunteer pursuits and the county.
“When I was first approached about this it looked like a dual win to me,” Rousseau told the county commission Monday. “Being a volunteer radio operator and a Crag Rat, this rig can help serve both of those purposes. This seemed like a good opportunity to give back to the community.”
The vehicle, a Lane County rescue rig in its previous life, sports a bank of radios, work stations, an external screen, flood lights and extended range antennae.
Rousseau said that the antennae will greatly help communications in hard-to-reach areas such as mountain rescues, where being able to send and receive transmissions can be a challenge.
“From being a Crag Rat I can tell you that is really useful,” he said he showed the commission and staff around the vehicle.
With solar panels on the roof, gel battery packs in the side and an external generator, the vehicle can be self sustaining for up to 12 hours.
The county purchased the vehicle for $7,500 using federal grant funds, said incoming Sherriff Matt English, meaning no money had to come from the county general fund to beef up its rescue capability.
Deputy Jerry Brown said the vehicle cost over $100,000 new when it was built in 1995, and the county was able to get it with only 28,000 miles on it and then refurbish it.
The sheriff’s office said that if purchased new, a new mobile communications vehicle would run at least $150,000.
“We can’t afford a 150K price tag; that’s just not in our budget,” Brown said.
The county has a mobile operations trailer to help communications during rescues or disasters, but it can take time to deploy and has trouble accessing some of the rougher county roads.
“It doesn’t matter what the event is — if it’s a major flood or something like that — where communications are an issue, we can get it into position and be able to direct operations,” Brown said.
English said other emergency response departments in the county will also receive training on the vehicle so that all emergency responders will be familiar with its operations.
“It really fills a need to have something like that,” he said of the vehicle.
Rousseau received a certificate of appreciation from Sheriff Joe Wampler for his 300 hours of work on the vehicle at Monday’s county commission meeting, but Rousseau said that it was no trouble at all to help out on a vehicle that will help fill a vital need in the county’s emergency response operations.
“It was a real pleasure to do this,” he said.