Nassau County's 77 volunteer fire departments and ambulance companies will receive a $661,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to upgrade their radio systems, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.

The money will help the departments meet a federal mandate that requires all emergency radio equipment to operate on a new frequency that the departments' communications systems do not currently support, Schumer (D-N.Y.) and fire officials said.

The mandate, which takes effect Jan. 1, is intended to create added frequency capacity for new channels and better communication among emergency response agencies.

The grant will allow departments to improve their equipment without raising taxes, said Ed Madden, an assistant chief with the Island Park Fire Department.

"Nothing in the fire service is cheap," Madden said. "And whenever anything is newer technology, it's always more expensive."

A FEMA spokeswoman declined to comment on the grant. Schumer said he learned the money was secured Feb. 24.

The $661,000 grant should be enough for all of the departments to buy the equipment, Schumer said, adding that the equipment is a step forward technologically.

"It's going to save lives and save taxpayer dollars," he said.

Richard Gardner, vice chairman of the Nassau County Fire Commission, said purchasing all of the new equipment with the grant could be "tight," but it will relieve the departments of the bulk of the burden. The cost of the new equipment breaks down to about $8,000 per ambulance, he said.

"It's definitely a big, needed help. And a big step in the right direction," Gardner said.

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