Interviews with EMS professionals:
Using the FirstNet network will improve situational awareness and decision-making. The FirstNet network will make it possible to use new tools that support faster parallel processing. The FirstNet network will enable the exchange of real‐time data and audio/video feeds between EMS personnel and hospital staff. This kind of connection, while units are on the scene and during transport, will improve all levels of pre‐hospital care.
How will FirstNet promote communication with other first responders?
Interoperability: By establishing a common channel of communication, first responders from fire service, law enforcement, medical services and others will be able to share data on a single platform. Such communication will promote a more coordinated response during emergencies.
How is FirstNet being built to ensure reliability and cybersecurity?
Reliability: FirstNet’s goal is to provide public safety-grade reliability so first responders can count on the network when they are on the job. FirstNet will make the network more resilient than existing commercial networks by requiring the FirstNet network to be hardened. Hardening entails strengthening cell tower sites and the overall network to ensure maximum reliability. The network will be engineered with back-up equipment and services to sustain operations during adverse conditions, like those experienced in Vermont during Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding in Barre during spring 2013.
Cybersecurity: For emergency medical services especially, sending medical data over unsecured commercial networks poses a threat to the patient's privacy rights and compliance with HIPAA. FirstNet will have effective security controls that protect data and defend against cyber threats. To defend against today’s complex and rapidly changing security threats, FirstNet will be built with layers of security at every vulnerable point. Security will be designed into all radio access networks (RAN), the evolved packet core (EPC) network, service platforms, as well as the devices that use the network.
How will FirstNet solve coverage issues in my area?
Coverage Solutions: In addition to providing coverage with terrestrial towers, FirstNet is considering supporting mobile solutions to provide coverage to areas that are challenging to serve. Imagine a briefcase-sized transmitter that can send a signal to a nearby cell tower or satellite so that you can access the FirstNet network.
If my current communication set-up is working now, why should I change to FirstNet?
Access to Future Technology: Cutting-edge applications and devices are developed, or are being developed, which will increase in operational ability with the roll out of the FirstNet network. FirstNet’s priority is to support the latest technological advances for the benefit of public safety users of the FirstNet network. You want to make sure your department can take advantage of new developments when they become available, rather that falling behind and missing opportunities to improve the safety and effectiveness of your Emergency Medical Service response.
What will users pay for FirstNet services?
Affordability: FirstNet intends to offer services at a compelling and competitive cost to attract millions of public safety users and help make FirstNet self-sustaining. If FirstNet’s commercial partner (AT&T) does not attract at least 70% of targeted public safety users in a given year, the partner will face substantial financial penalties. The use of FirstNet’s services and applications will be voluntary. The costs for FirstNet’s services have not yet been determined.
It was as an 18-year old freshman at the University of Vermont that Dan Manz, Executive Director of Essex Rescue, was first introduced to the life-changing profession of EMS. As Manz was standing in front of his college dorm, a car speeding by him went out of control and rolled upside down in a ditch. He quickly ran to the car and turned off the engine and waited with the injured occupants until UVM student rescue crews arrived. He went on to work as a student for UVM Rescue, starting a more than 40-year career in emergency medical services. His work includes serving for 25 years as Vermont’s State EMS Director. His call to state service continues. He currently serves as one of the first responder representatives on Vermont’s Public Safety Broadband Network Commission.
Essex Rescue serves the second largest municipal area in Vermont. How large is the staff and how many calls are responded to each year?
Our active roster includes more than 60 volunteers and a career staff of five. Essex Rescue is a licensed advanced life support ambulance service and we will respond to more than 2,100 calls this year. In addition to our licensed career staff, we are fortunate to have so many volunteers who are also licensed EMTs and experienced career medical practitioners.
What is one of the biggest challenges facing Essex Rescue?
I am concerned about how we will maintain an adequate workforce in the future. This is a very busy EMS agency. We have a growing senior community within our service area. As people age, they require more medical care—including ambulance services. Our volunteer force is also aging. We are always actively recruiting new volunteers in anticipation of current volunteers leaving and the demand for services rising.
How is your department currently using technology to communicate?
Our communication is based on older-generation technology. We use a standard two-way radio system to talk to the ambulances. We use older cell phones that are specifically programmed to work with our in-ambulance cardiac monitors to transmit EKG readings via Bluetooth to the hospital. However, it is an aging technology. In terms of more current technology, we have rugged laptops in each ambulance which allows us to enter all patient incident information. We also have a Garmin in each vehicle. These devices help both in locating all of our vehicles and in mapping street directions to our calls.
Even though you are serving a large municipal area in Vermont, you still have some challenges with maintaining reliable wireless coverage. How do you hope FirstNet can address this challenge?
There are locations in our service area where there is no cell coverage. We hope FirstNet will help by boosting our signal coverage and give us more reliable service in these problem areas. We also look forward to updating our technology and using applications we currently don’t have access to. For example, with a reliable data network we could access the medical history of a particular patient and quickly determine if they have a pre-existing condition and what meds they may be on.
Any other thoughts on how FirstNet will benefit the first responder community?
EMS continues to evolve in its scope and mission. For example, with a growing emphasis on at-home care, EMS professionals may find in the future that they need more access to medical devices that record a patient’s ongoing progress. With the right systems, we could monitor patients after they’re sent home from the hospital and transmit that medical data to their doctor. FirstNet will provide a technology pipeline that will give Vermont first responders the opportunity to use new applications and devices as they arise.
Dan Manz recently retired as the Executive Director for Essex Rescue.