(TNS) - After some discussion, Palo Pinto County, Texas Commissioners on Monday agreed to extend for another year its agreement to lease a mobile communications vehicle for use in times of emergencies and disasters.
The county leases a 2009 Optima/Freightliner Columbia for $1 a year from DMS Holdings LLC, now known as Midcom Inc., owned by the county's contracted communications specialist Mike Simpson. The county provides property and liability insurance and associated operating, repair and maintenance costs.
A question arose as to how much the vehicle is used and its accessibility. It hasn't been used for a year, following last October's Toadies concert at Possum Hollow, because it needs new tires at an approximate cost of $5,000, and a new leveling sensor needed to prevent damage to the vehicle upon deployment.
The vehicle is valued at nearly $400,000 and is equipped with an array of satellite and digital communications and components.
Simpson "red-tagged" the vehicle, preventing its use until those repairs are made. The vehicle is kept in the Gordon area, and to date Simpson has been the only one to operate the vehicle which was originally made and outfitted for use as a remote television and radio broadcast vehicle.
"I don't think funding is the issue," Pct. 4 Commissioner Jeff Fryer said during Monday's discussion. "I just don't think we use it enough."
Simpson said the 46-foot-long, single-axle vehicle can provide all sheriff's office and emergency management dispatch and communications if needed, as well as remote location communications. Simpson said the truck is available to the City of Mineral Wells and can replace or supplement the city's emergency dispatch and communications if needed.
He said he can take the vehicle to any emergency in any county and quickly have it capable of providing or replacing emergency communications.
"This is capable of being a dispatch console," Simpson said, adding it can also be used at special events and for public relations.
"It is a wonderful command vehicle," said Sheriff Brett McGuire. "I think our concern was, let's look at all of our options to see what the best option is."
The bigger question for the sheriff, emergency management officials and commissioners is being able to quickly access and deploy it, and having others trained to drive and operate the vehicle and controls.
"As far as who can operate it, anybody can operate it," Simpson said. "It can be used whenever you want."
Simpson said he is almost always available immediately to deploy the vehicle. He makes available to the county at no additional charge an SUV also equipped to provide emergency communications for use in situations and places inaccessible by the larger vehicle.
County Judge David Nicklas asked to "have someone in the sheriff's office trained on driving the vehicle and have access to the vehicle."
"It's a very technical piece of equipment," Simpson said.
McGuire said his department would work toward getting command staff and 911 telecommunicators trained on operating and utilizing the communications truck.
With that, commissioners voted to extend the lease agreement for the remote communications vehicle and asked Simpson to bring estimates on the necessary repairs so that it can be placed back into service and use. The county will look to use funds from a current emergency communications budget appropriation.
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