Fire Services

Don't miss the interview below with Fire Chief Steven Locke

Check out these other fire personnel interviews!

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 public safety network core, with priority and pre-emption, first responders from fire service, law enforcement and medical services will be able to share data on a single platform without concern for the availability of bandwidth to support their communication. Such communication will facilitate a more coordinated response during emergencies.

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.

Cybersecurity: 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. Firewalls will enforce stringent security policies developed in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) to meet National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requirements. The FirstNet design will be guided by 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) standards for encryption, as well as other standards-based security measures and best practices. FirstNet also plans to work closely across federal agencies with expertise in telecommunications security design modeling.

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. Vermont will have three deployable units based in our state. One is owned by AT&T and operated for FirstNet. It is based in South Burlington and is already operational. There will be two additional deployables owned and managed by the Department of Public Safety. Those deployables have yet to be delivered to the state. DPS is working on procedures for requesting the use of deployables in an emergency or for a planned exercise or large event. 

If my current communication set-up is working now, why should I change to FirstNet?

Coverage must be a first consideration. If you do not have reliable coverage from AT&T, you should not change. However, keep up-to-date on the build-out of the network in Vermont. Additional towers will be built throughout the state for FirstNet as part of AT&T's federal contract. The initial build-out is scheduled for completion nationwide in 2022. If coverage is not a concern, subscribing to FirstNet may save you money and give you additional features you do not currently have. FirstNet’s priority is to support the latest technological advances for the benefit of public safety users of the network. You want to make sure your department can take advantage of new developments when they become available, rather than falling behind and missing opportunities to improve the safety and effectiveness of your service response. 

A Conversation with Steven Locke, Burlington Fire Chief

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. 


The FirstNet project is housed within the Radio Technology Services unit of the Department of Public Safety.

Public Safety Broadband Network Commission
Department of Public Safety
45 State Drive Waterbury, VT 05671
(802) 241-5535/ Email the PSBC

Email the PSBC Chair:

Visit the federal government FirstNet Authority web site at:

Visit the commercial AT&T FirstNet subscriber web site at:

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