The Deadliest Fire in CA History

The Camp Fire in California was the deadliest and most destructive in California to date. Over 6,000 firefighters struggled for containment from Nov. 9-25, 2018. Fire stations around the country flew and shipped in reinforcements. As resources grew, the need for communications grew, and it put a strain on the infrastructure in Butte County. This isn’t the only occasion when public safety personnel have faced these types of communication problems.

Communications are important in these types of situations. They play a pivotal role in saving lives, reducing damage, and fighting the fire the timeliest way. Teams must be in constant communication while at fire ground because the environment is ever-changing. Not only must they be in constant communication with each other, but they must also be able to communicate back to command centers.

Firefighters around the country face challenges when it comes to communications. Some of the largest are:

  • Information is rarely gathered and disseminated in time to act on at fireground.
  • The public and first responders place heavy loads on the networks. The networks get overloaded and make it difficult to coordinate efforts.
  • Communications at fireground rarely get recorded because they are often out of network range. This puts agencies at risk because they are not capturing any of that information.

Companies nationwide are developing technology solutions that address these challenges.

Mission-Critical Communications

FirstNet, delivered by AT&T, is working to provide broadband networks exclusively for first responders. Their networks span jurisdictions, allowing agencies to tackle emergencies with a coordinated response.

FirstNet is being adopted and implemented in cities throughout the United States. It’s one of the largest initiatives happening in the public safety sector right now. In response, other technology providers are releasing mobile apps optimized for FirstNet. These tools streamline communications, provide logistical information, track personal health goals, and more.

In areas that have not yet adopted FirstNet, solutions like Base Camp Connect address similar network challenges. BCC creates a local network to provide phone, internet, and radio interoperability out at fireground.

Mobile apps can provide fire fighters with rich information, but software can only go so far. For situations where firefighters need timely data, strides are being made with on-body sensors. UCLA, in conjunction with Nanotech Energy, recently invented a new type of sensor. Functionally, it tracks body movement and can withstand tough environments. Practically, it helps command centers determine when a first responder is in danger. It senses whether a firefighter is walking, jumping, running, or standing/lying still. Through friction, it serves as its own generator, so a separate bulky power source isn’t needed. Personnel can wear it in a shoe without feeling its presence.

While not available for sale yet, innovations like these will be on the market soon. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means more sensors with advanced technologies are being developed.

Recording Out of Network Range

Many communication tools are emerging to assist firefighter personnel at fireground. These communications are high-risk; the lives of public safety personnel are on the line. To mitigate the risk to agencies, it’s essential that communications get recorded. Yet, communications out at these remote locations rarely do. Recordings can serve to shape public opinion of an agency or defend the agency in legal situations. Without them, public safety agencies open themselves to lawsuits.

Exacom developed a voice logger for these situations. It can record at command centers, in specialty vehicles, in mobile command units, and more. It doesn’t rely on the network, so it can record communications anywhere. Fire personnel can access the recordings on their mobile device or tablet, via file transfer to a laptop, or on the recorder itself. And if the agency uses any of Exacom’s other logging recorders, all recordings can be centralized. This allows personnel to view all recorded data in one interface, regardless of where comms take place. They tout this feature as part of their distributed multimedia recording capabilities.

Technology innovators continue to pioneer new solutions that face firefighters on the front lines. The hope is to make these dangerous situations a little less volatile and keep our fire personnel safe while arming them with tools to do their jobs even more effectively.