Where there’s smoke, there’s fire… and where there’s firefighters, there’s FirstNet!

AT&T Blog Team
May 4, 2023
Public Safety

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire… and where there’s firefighters, there’s FirstNet!

It’s hard to think of a job description that requires more courage than that of a firefighter. From running into burning buildings to aiding in search and rescue missions, firefighters are truly frontline heroes.

Their selflessness – with roughly 65% serving as volunteers1 – should not go unrecognized. As we celebrate International Firefighters’ Day, it’s important to bolster our thanks with actions.

One way we support firefighters is by improving a crucial element of public safety – communication. As public safety’s committed partner through FirstNet, we are honored to drive new capabilities for first responders to have reliable communications, no matter the circumstance.

The FirstNet network is built specifically for public safety to communicate when they’re in the line of duty – meaning first responders get truly dedicated coverage and capacity when they need it and unique benefits like always-on priority and preemption, on top of:

  • 590+ FirstNet Ready® devices to connect to the FirstNet network
  • 150+ FirstNet deployable network assets dedicated to improving first responder connectivity in the field
  • 200+ public safety-centric apps to improve situational awareness and meet their unique needs

FirstNet provides the level of connection firefighters need to respond to any situation – so they no longer compete for a connection on a crowded network or are without coverage in a remote area. Firefighters, in collaboration with other public safety disciplines, played a key role in pushing for Congress to act on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation for a dedicated, purpose-built communications platform for public safety. Today, their vision is now reality.

Dedicated connectivity when they need it most

Most people in emergency situations feel a sense of panic and frenzy, but firefighters are trained to overcome the chaos. To do so, they need information – and they need it fast. In Hyannis, Massachusetts, where the population of 30,000 can exceed 100,000 during the summer tourism season, crowded commercial networks can stand in the way of seamless public safety coordination.

But with FirstNet, public safety never competes with commercial network congestion. To prepare for the roughly 7,000 phone calls they get a year, the Hyannis Fire Department turned to FirstNet to utilize hotspots, agency cell phones, tablets and wireless routers on fire apparatus, so their teams are informed to make the right calls when it counts.

  • For example, when a bushfire broke out near Hyannis airport, firefighters used FirstNet to stream footage of the fire to track areas in danger.

Elsewhere, rural firefighters often face a different issue, simply lacking communications infrastructure. This was the case for Wayne County, North Carolina, but not anymore as a new FirstNet cell tower expanded coverage into areas that used to be “communication deserts.” Across the country, more than 1,000 new, purpose-built FirstNet cell towers have launched where public safety identified a coverage need. The vast majority of these FirstNet towers are extending coverage in rural, remote and tribal areas.

Delivering mission-centric tools in heightened situations

As wildfires tore through the West Coast last year, we saw countless acts of heroism from fire departments working tirelessly to control the flames and help locals evacuate.

FirstNet was part of that fight, too. Through innovative tools, such as smart connected device options and apps, FirstNet helps provide firefighters with a connection they can depend on, even amid disasters where commercial power and other infrastructure may be disrupted.

  • In 2022 alone, FirstNet responded to more than 70 wildfire response requests in 13 states, deploying nearly 100 communications solutions.

When a fire threatened Happy Camp, California, in July 2022, the region’s steep mountain terrain caused evacuation routes to change by the minute, meaning response teams needed updates in near real-time. The FirstNet Response Operations Group deployed 2 FirstNet Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs) and a Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT) to support first responders on the ground.

  • CRDs and SatCOLTs function as portable FirstNet cell towers. They link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability, making them ideal in rural and remote areas, and where communications may be limited.
  • These assets can be driven right up to dead zones to provide a needed connection.

And in another instance, when lightning strikes in Washington caused a fire to erupt in the Stayman Flats, the initial attack crew didn’t have communication on their land mobile radios (LMR). They called in FirstNet to deploy a SatCOLT in the middle of the night, which provided mission-critical communications for fire suppression coordination and allowed the firefighters to focus on extinguishing the flames rather than their radio signal.

Fighting more than fires

More valuable than any gadget is the person underneath the helmet and gear. We can’t overlook the health and wellbeing of the ones who look out for us. That’s why we created the FirstNet Health & Wellness Coalition to coordinate how we support the holistic health and wellness of first responders. FirstNet is dedicated to prioritizing first responder wellbeing by supporting initiatives like:

  • Rog the DOG, an animal-assisted therapy program that supports firefighters, and other members of public safety, on the frontlines.
  • Boulder Crest, a nonprofit sponsored by FirstNet that develops and delivers post-traumatic growth-based programs for first responders.
  • The Compass Wellness Program in Huntington, West Virginia, which embeds wellness coaches into teams to help firefighters handle the mental and physical challenges that come with the job.
  • [Watch this video to meet the faces behind the Compass Wellness Program]

The bottom line

Fires and other disasters are unpredictable. A firefighter’s communications system should be anything but.

FirstNet helps bring peace of mind to public safety, ensuring reliable connections and prioritization for emergency response teams. As we continue to invest in expanding connectivity and advanced communication technology, we can continue to equip our first responders, like firefighters, with the tools and confidence they need to keep answering the call.

1 U.S. Fire Department Profile | National Fire Protection Association Report (September 2022)

FirstNet and the FirstNet logo are registered trademarks and service marks of the First Responder Network Authority.