Don't miss the interview below with Fire Chief Steven Locke
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Using the FirstNet network will greatly improve situational awareness and keep fire personnel safer with an improved communications capability. The FirstNet network will make it possible to gain quick access to new tools and applications that provide location data and other vital information for firefighting. The FirstNet network will enable the exchange of real‐time data and audio/video feeds on the ground to assist incident commanders with operational decision‐making and maximize search and rescue and suppression effectiveness. Below are a few of the common questions we receive about FirstNet.
How will FirstNet promote communication with other first responders?
Interoperability: By establishing a common Band Class 14 channel of communication, first responders from fire service, law enforcement, medical services and others will be able to share data through a single channel. Such communication will promote a more coordinated response during emergencies. The FirstNet network will support further roll out of Computer Aided Dispatch systems, such as I Am Responding or Active 911. Additionally, during mutual aid events multiple fire departments will be able to utilize the FirstNet network to have a common operational picture as incidents unfold.
How is FirstNet being built to ensure reliability?
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.
How will FirstNet solve coverage issues in my area?
Coverage Solutions: In addition to providing coverage with terrestrial towers, the FirstNet network will support 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 FirstNet public safety users. 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 fire 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.
Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke started his fire service career at age 16 as a volunteer firefighter in North Hyde Park. That early interest in service and in his community has grown into a lifelong career spanning more than 20 years. Steven Locke's experience includes serving as a firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, Emergency Management Director for the Town of Hartford during Tropical Storm Irene, and seven years as Fire Chief for the Hartford Fire Department. He currently serves as one of the first responder representatives on Vermont's Public Safety Broadband Commission.
The Burlington Fire Department is the largest such department in Vermont. Would you describe the department and its service area?
We have 79 full-time firefighters at five stations serving approximately 42,000 residents. That number swells each day with many tourists, a diverse workforce and student population. We receive approximately 7,500 calls for service each year.
What is one of the biggest challenges facing the Burlington Fire Department?
Technology is a big challenge. How do we incorporate more technology into our daily operations to allow us to streamline our processes and improve our response? One area under consideration is computer-aided dispatch. Such systems will send a call to fire service personnel and include the nature of the call, address, and other pertinent data. Now, when we have a call, the radio traffic is intense as multiple responders call in to confirm the call.
One goal of FirstNet is to provide a reliable, affordable and secure broadband network for first responders to allow them to use technology to aid in emergency response. What kind of solution are you looking at in Burlington?
We will be placing tablets in all of our response vehicles and using an application called Active911. It’s a digital messaging system that delivers alarms and maps, tracks the location of other responders from our fire department and provides information such as the location of fire hydrants. On a recent call where I was unfamiliar with the incident address, I was able to quickly locate our responding units and drive to the scene using the app on my smart phone. Technology can save valuable time. These systems can provide us better data on our response times.
What are your thoughts on the national roll-out of FirstNet?
I am hesitant to get too excited about the network until we see more regarding what it will offer. It will have to offer more value than the existing commercial carriers to draw first responder subscribers. I like the idea that first responders would have priority on the network. It will be interesting to see if FirstNet offers new applications that would be helpful to first responders. Hopefully, we’ll know soon what this network is really going to look like.