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With the right apps, broadband will make a difference to fire sector

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Some have argued that broadband will not have significant value to the firefighting community, but the development of applications designed to improve response efficiency are encouraging indicators that the fire sector will benefit from high-speed connectivity.

Almost from the moment that the notion of dedicated public-safety broadband network was proposed, first-responder representatives were able to identify potential applications that would be useful to the law-enforcement and EMS sectors, both of which benefit greatly from access to detailed records and multimedia, when available.

There was considerably less enthusiasm from the firefighting community. Of course, there were exceptions—Jeff Johnson (former International Association of Fire Chiefs president and now a FirstNet board member) and Charlottesville, Va., Fire Chief Charles Werner being two notable examples—but many in the firefighting sector asked, “What would we use broadband for?”

While on the scene of an incident, firefighters wear bulky gloves that make all but the simplest dexterity movements difficult, which is why push-to-talk functionality and “man down” buttons on LMR portables are valued so much in the sector. Before getting to a scene, firefighters have precious little time to get their gear on and prepare mentally for the response effort, so fumbling with a handheld device to access information while en route to the scene is not practical.

One of our trusted sources informed us that two members of the firefighting community indicated during a recent public-safety meeting regarding next-generation 911 that having access to an observer’s video of a blaze would not provide any significant benefit to the response effort.

“They have too much going on in planning such as locations of hydrants, hose lay routes, weather and other factors than to look at video that shows what, a building burning?” our source e-mailed us. “Maps, floor plans and the other touted uses don't mean anything to the responder, but they may mean something to the battalion chief or other officer acting as an incident commander.”

Indeed, a close-up video of a fire is of little value. But video taken from some distance away (ensuring the videographer’s safety) could be very valuable, especially if normal environment in the location can be accessed easily.

How close is the fire to a power hub or hazardous materials storage? Has the blaze rendered key fire hydrants unusable or blocked important access points? With the help of appropriate site information and video taken from the proper perspective, these are just a few of the questions that could be answered for an incident commander before arriving on the scene, so adjustments to the pre-plan for the location can be made as quickly as possible.

Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Feb 11, 2014

California's Office of Emergency Services has been bringing broadband to the wildland fight for years using transportable VSAT terminals. The transportables are an element of a larger network, the Operational Area Satellite Information System or OASIS. The OASIS system ensures that all 58 county EOCs have telephony and broadband regardless of the local condition of the PSTN.
OASIS transportables are deployed to ICPs when no other reachback facilities are an option. First Net coverage of this terrain is still years away.

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP (not verified)
on Feb 12, 2014

Excellent comments, and proof points that people making technology statements should be familiar with an industry from a first hand perspective, or at least have their ideas vetted.

Dhiren Chauhan - Motorola Solutions (not verified)
on Feb 13, 2014

Excellent blog which addresses a HUGE dilemma in the Fire Market and how we can use technology as a facilitator for First Responder Safety. We as vendors have to provide situational awareness based solutions which work in conjunction with other vendors all while ensuring that the technology is seamless and easy to set up.

And I agree with Mark Fletcher, we should make sure solutions are vetted.

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Glenn Bischoff is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Urgent Communications magazine. Over a 30-year journalism career, his publications have won several ASBPE awards for editorial excellence. He...

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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