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FirstNet - Helping Firefighters Face Historic Wildfire Season Amid Pandemic

By Kevin Nida and Chris Baker, First Responder Network Authority Senior Public Safety Advisors

Last year, firefighters on the west coast battled a relentless string of fires such as the Green Ridge Fire, the Holiday Farm Fire, the Gates Fire and many more. These devastating wildfires prompted mass evacuations, destroying thousands of homes and threatening dozens of communities. In Oregon, Washington, and California, local firefighters and other emergency personnel operated under considerable strain responding to COVID-19 as the pandemic simultaneously threatened areas under siege by fires.

As the fires and the pandemic continue to pose a double threat, many fire agencies have been relying more on mobile devices, such as tablets, smart phones, and laptops to receive information to support critical responder needs. Whether it’s staying connected to enable virtual briefings to command in line with pandemic protocols or relying on technology to help contend with reduced visibility or map out terrain on the fire line, technology has helped firefighters stay flexible and adapt in these trying times.

Over the course of our careers in the fire service, we have watched as technology has helped the fire service work faster and smarter. But it’s no secret that technology has also caused firefighters frustration juggling multiple devices, experiencing poor coverage, or trying to communicate over incompatible and congested networks. In the midst of battling wildfires or administering life-saving medical care, first responders on the front line need reliable communications tools to support their mission.

FirstNet was built for public safety

After the tragedies surrounding the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when emergency responders could not easily communicate with each other, public safety leaders led the rallying call for the creation of the FirstNet network. In 2012, Congress created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to oversee the creation and delivery of FirstNet in all U.S. states, territories, and the District of Columbia – including rural communities and tribal nations.

In our current capacity as senior public safety advisors for the FirstNet Authority, we are working closely with our network partner AT&T to create a dedicated public safety broadband experience for users by offering a range of specialized network services – such as priority access, preemption, more network capacity, and a resilient, hardened connection. 

FirstNet is working as it was intended by giving first responders prioritized and preemptive service to make sure that emergency communications always comes first. The west coast wildfires and the COVID-19 response illustrates the importance of a nationwide network with a reliable connection and advanced capabilities.

Last year we witnessed the effectiveness of FirstNet firsthand during our response efforts at the North Complex Fire, the largest wildland fire in the history of California. We relied on FirstNet for our daily video briefings and general internet connectivity while commercial networks were overloaded. Due to COVID, briefings for fire personnel were held remotely to ensure social distance amongst responders. The 24/7 connectivity between base camp and the incident command post was imperative.

Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates. 

Cross-post from FirstNet

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