Newport City FD: Reliable Service Benefits All
When Jamie LeClair talks about the Newport City Fire Department, he knows what he’s talking about. He volunteered with the department for more than two decades before becoming Fire Chief seven years ago. The department has 26 volunteer firefighters and provides primary coverage for a 36-square-mile area. They responded to approximately 250 calls last year, the majority of them were responses to car crashes or alarm alerts. The population of Newport is just over 4,500 people.
Managing a rural fire department would have some unique communication challenges. Tell us about them.
Our two biggest challenges are having an adequate budget to purchase the equipment we need and poor signal transmission. There’s lots of competition for funding in a small town. In Newport City, the fire department has the lowest budget in the city. We rely on LMRs as our primary communication tool, but radio communication in the Northeast Kingdom can be poor. We use personal cell phones as a secondary call system. A free application called TwoToneDetect allows us to send calls to our volunteers via email.
How does TwoToneDetect work?
TwoToneDetect is a Windows program that detects two-tone pages, records the audio, and then sends the recording to an email address. It is free for personal and noncommercial use by public safety organizations. We invested $600 in hardware. We utilize an internet connection from Comcast, a scanner and a computer. TwoToneDetect uses the computer’s sound card to “listen” to the received audio and detect two-tone sequential paging sequences. This is the type of paging commonly used for fire department alerts. Upon detecting a known two-tone page, the program will record dispatch audio and email that audio to a specified email address. Fire personnel receive that email on their personal smart phone or computer and they can text back that they are responding to the call. As Chief, I see who is responding. This has cut down on our two-way radio traffic. This system also offers an important backup since a firefighter’s pager may not even work at home due to signal problems.
Is there other technology you use for your jobs?
We don’t use laptops or tablets in our vehicles because we can’t afford them. In the future we hope to buy a tablet in order to use a program on-scene called Moditech. Moditech will allow us to quickly identify if a vehicle is a hybrid and give us the schematic drawing of the car to show us where we can disconnect the electrical system to avoid getting electrocuted. It is a real hazard. For example, responders arrive on-scene and find a victim in a crashed hybrid car. While the car may not be electrified at that moment, if the wheels move at all, it can reactivate the electrical system and push a current through the car system. With Moditech, we can take a picture of a vehicle’s VIN number and transmit it to the company to get a quick response.
How do you believe your department would benefit from FirstNet?
With a reliable broadband service, we would know that services like VT-ALERT would work all of the time. Everyone has a cell phone. Anything that is done to make our cell signals more reliable is a benefit to us. If it benefits the fire department, it is a benefit to the community.