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Shade Gap Area Fire Company fire vehicle stands in front of forested area and building, spraying water; Public Safety First podcast logo

Episode 67: Connecting the Community: Bringing Broadband to Rural Pennsylvania


January 18, 2023
Broadband infrastructure remains limited in rural communities, making it difficult for local public safety to stay connected and respond quickly to emergencies. In Shade Gap, Pennsylvania, this has meant dropped 9-1-1 calls and significant communications challenges for the mountainous area. With the launch of a new FirstNet cell site in Shade Gap, local first responders now have access to high-speed, reliable cellular connectivity that is enhancing public safety for residents and visitors.


Lori Stone, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor 
Tanner Locke, President of the Shade Gap Volunteer Fire Company 



Episode 67 | Connecting the Community: Bringing Broadband to Rural Pennsylvania

Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology. 

And now, your host. 

LORI STONE: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. I'm Lori Stone and I'll be your host. Today, I'm talking with firefighter and emergency medical responder, Tanner Locke, of the Shade Gap Volunteer Fire Company in Pennsylvania. We're going to be talking about some of the communications challenges in the rural Shade Gap area and how a new FirstNet cell tower is giving responders the connectivity they need. Tanner, thank you so much for joining me today.

Episode 67 | Connecting the Community: Bringing Broadband to Rural Pennsylvania

Narrator: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology. 

And now, your host. 

LORI STONE: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast. I'm Lori Stone and I'll be your host. Today, I'm talking with firefighter and emergency medical responder, Tanner Locke, of the Shade Gap Volunteer Fire Company in Pennsylvania. We're going to be talking about some of the communications challenges in the rural Shade Gap area and how a new FirstNet cell tower is giving responders the connectivity they need. Tanner, thank you so much for joining me today.

Tanner Locke: Yeah, thank you, Lori. You know, I'm really honored to be here and to really be able to share the real-life scenarios that, you know, we go through in the rural parts of Pennsylvania here in Shade Gap.

Lori Stone: So, let's talk a little bit about your background, Tanner. Tell me what you do at Shade Gap. I understand you've recently been elected president of the volunteer Fire company.

Tanner Locke: Yeah. I'm now the president of the Shade Gap Area Volunteer Fire Company, and, you know, with that you wear many hats. You help oversee safety operations and make sure the fire company is working at the safest way possible. Not only to protect us firemen and women, but also to keep the general public in the safest regards as well. And, you know, that's a job that I take very seriously. I'm an active firefighter, EMR as well as you'll see me out there doing, you know, hands-on duties too. Interacting with the public and trying to do that in the safest way possible, too.

Lori Stone: And how long have you been a member of the fire company?

Tanner Locke: Well, I joined when I was a junior member at the age of 14, and I'm now 26, so we'll go with 12-plus years on that.

Lori Stone: So, for the better part of half of your life, you have been part of this this fire company. And I know you grew up in the Shade Gap area. Tell me a little bit about what that area is like, what life is like living there and rural population.

Tanner Locke: You know, Shade Gap's a real rural area and we're in the south-central part of Pennsylvania, there’s just many mountains and oodles of trees, lots of farmland, many back roads. And, you know, the back roads are pretty narrow here and it causes a number of wrecks. That's probably one of our number one calls. But behind that, we get fires and medical assists. But yeah, we're real rural and actually I'll put it in perspective. You know, a lot of people have Walmarts just a couple minutes away. Our nearest Walmart is a good 45 minutes away. So, that kind of explains how far away, you know, out in the sticks we are.

Lori Stone: You know, I traveled to come to the ribbon cutting for the new tower that we're talking about today. And I did travel on some of those back roads, and I'm not familiar with that area. So, I can see how that would pose a constant challenge for people who maybe take the roads too fast or in inclement weather. So, that sounds like something that keeps you guys busy constantly. When it comes to communications, Tanner, what have you been doing with some of the issues your agency has faced? How have you overcome them?

Tanner Locke: So yeah, communication in our area was not even close to par. It was very mediocre to say it best, and there were many problems and challenges with communicating, and it stems clean back from patients not being able to reach 9-1-1 due to no cell service. You know, we actually had a call one time, there were two teens, they were heading to college and they actually went down over the embankment. Well, they tried to call 9-1-1 and their phones kept losing service in and out, in and out. And the dispatcher was, you know, really just putting little pieces together as he was able to hear what they were saying. So, he figured out where they might be at within a 30-mile radius or zone on this one road. And numerous fire companies were dispatched out and we literally walked up and down the mountain, two different mountains, actually.

And, you know, that took time. We actually found them ten miles north of where they thought they may have been. And so, just think how long it took us to walk up and down, you know, looking for these kids. This call went on for hours and here these kids are in a car down over the embankment. And it was in the wintertime, it was cold and no heat. Luckily, there was very, very little to no injuries. But, you know, communication, reliable broadband would have sped this up. And the patient contact would have been almost instantaneous if the kids would have been able to reach that dispatch, you know, quickly and actually been able to talk to the dispatcher, tell them exactly where they're at. And we could have got there a lot faster. So, we escaped that one, but, you know, hopefully it doesn't happen again.

Lori Stone: And the odds are, though, that another incident like that will happen again and you're focusing on being better prepared for that. And that's what brings us to our conversation about FirstNet coming to Shade Gap and being able to experience the service of this nationwide public safety broadband network. I know we met at the ribbon cutting for the new tower, December 2022. What did this mean to you all that you had this tower very close to your fire company and what benefits you're looking forward to.

Tanner Locke: Well, I'll tell you in this doesn't just affect the fire hall. You know, this affects the entire town and the surrounding neighborhoods, and fire halls as well. It's a true blessing. It really is. And, you know, for anyone now with an AT&T phone, they'll now be able to call, text, even browse. For FirstNet, you know, to bring that fast, reliable, broadband coverage to Shade Gap. It's just tremendous. And, you know, with the addition of this tower now, for future calls, where a victim is in a crash, or in a house and their cell phone’s the only form of communication for them to try to call 9-1-1, you know, that cell coverage will be there. We're lowering the patient contact time, getting people there quicker. And in return, that's increasing public safety. And I couldn't be thankful enough. It's truly, truly great.

Lori Stone: I know the fire department had worked for many years to highlight the need for increased cellular coverage communications in this area. Tell me a little bit about that fight that the challenge that you all had to get something there.

Tanner Locke: It was actually—it was a ten-plus year project. It was definitely nothing that happened overnight. And there was many people in this fight to get broadband cell coverage in our once-forgotten dark town. It stemmed clean up to Congress, you know, clean down to us little people here in the fire hall. The right people who needed to see there was a problem saw that there was a problem. And, you know, kudos to them. They worked on it and they made something happen. And, you know, now we, now we can thankfully say that, hey, Shade Gap actually has cell coverage now. If you need it, it's there. And again, it increases safety. That's the overall objective.

Lori Stone: I like how you mentioned up to Congress and then to the fire company. It was a really a joint effort. And I like that you highlighted that because the FirstNet Authority and FirstNet the network are here because of the law that Congress passed building on the lessons from 9/11 and we're 20 plus years past that tragic event, and we are still pushing forward to have everybody on equal footing, you know, across the country for communications. It took some time for us to get where we need to be. And it's thanks to these partnerships that you all bring to the table as well. I mean, you opened up your fire company to us. We went up to the second floor of your fire company and had a nice little roundtable forum with several elected officials in Congress and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. So, I think that was a really great collaborative effort, Tanner, that you also all helped organize. You all wanted to educate these elected officials about what the fire service is like.

Tanner Locke: Yeah, for them to actually be able to come out to us and hear firsthand of how this tower will increase public safety and bring not only the fire personnel together, but really be able to communicate better if someone is in danger. Now, they can see that that phone call that they made was only possible because of that cell phone tower that they implemented. And without that, it ain't going to happen. We're not going to get there on a timely manner. We might not even get there at all, you know, if we didn't know that this patient or victim was there. But, you know, because of the Congress, because of AT&T, because of FirstNet, and all the representatives and elected officials, and because of all of them, it's a team effort. And at the end of the day, this is what we have—reliable cell coverage, broadband for the Shade Gap area. It's a step in the right direction. It really is.

Lori Stone: Yeah, that's perfect. And that's what we hear from rural agencies across the country, is they want to be on the same level, and so, tell me why broadband is so important to the fire service, especially in the rural areas.

Tanner Locke: Well, you said it right there. It's a key word, rural. And this isn't a city where a hospital is 5 minutes away. You know, in some cases, some of the houses, the nearest hospital to their house is over an hour away. You know, so, there has to be a tremendous amount of communication. And it starts, number one, with the victim to the dispatcher. You have to be able to tell the dispatcher, where you're at, what's going on, what's the injuries, so we can get the right equipment there and as fast as possible. And then, number two, well, you need good communication between the personnel on scene and incoming units. You need to tell them what you need. You need to talk to dispatch effectively. You need to be able to talk to your people inside that structure or inside that vehicle. And that's to keep the incident running quick and as safely as possible. So, okay, now you have your victim out of the car and you're in an ambulance, you're on the way to the hospital. Well, guess what? You need to call that hospital and tell them, hey, I have a patient coming.

Here we come back to the communication again. And that's with a cell phone. You know, a lot of the hospitals don't have a radio. Now, you have to physically call them on the phone and that's not possible without this broadband.

Lori Stone: Over an hour, transport time to a hospital, and then you all having to call the hospital ahead of time and using your cell phones, that's really something that can make a difference for a patient outcome.

Tanner Locke: They call it the golden hour. From the time that incident occurs, whether you cut your arm or you're in a wreck, they want you at that hospital within an hour. So, if you're struggling to call 9-1-1 or you're struggling on the scene because you can't talk to someone to tell them maybe how to do this more efficiently, well guess what? That adds to that hour. Now you have an hour transport time somewhere. You're looking at an hour and a half, 2 hours before the patient is in the hospital bed from that incident. You know, so, this really speeds up the whole patient contact, patient transport, and, you know, the safety aspect of all of this. So, yeah communication, out here in the rural area anyway, it's very key. And we're very blessed to be able to implement this new tower and the FirstNet Authority for all they've done. This is going to, again, increase public safety. And that's what we want.

Lori Stone: As a foundation, you know, we rely on 9-1-1. We rely on EMS, and fire, and law enforcement, to help us when we need it. And I liked how you traced through the patient contact to the patient transport, and then maybe to the patient outcome at the hospital, and communications is really the underpinning for all of that to have a better result. I'm going to ask you a little bit about being a volunteer, Tanner. I know this is not your full-time job. Share a little bit about that.

Tanner Locke: You know, when we're getting alerted to a 9-1-1 call, we're in this volunteering. No pay, no nothing. We're here to volunteer our time to go help someone in need. For me to be able to have that opportunity to give back and maybe help someone that, you know, is in dire need of it. I'm blessed, I'm honored. And again, we don't do this for us. If it was up to us, we’d probably be sitting at the kitchen table with our families eating supper. But, you know, when that pager goes off or that siren goes off, I can guarantee you one thing. We'll be there and we'll be there to help you every step of the way, too. That's just what we do.

Lori Stone: I can tell from the moment that I heard you speak that just really resonates with you. We've covered a lot of variety topics today. Is there anything else you want to add?

Tanner Locke: We're all here in a team effort to make public safety a top priority. Like I say, clean from Congress, FirstNet AT&T, all the elected officials, you know, stemming clean down to the fire hall. And I can't thank all these people enough for putting public safety first. It's really appreciated, guys. And I'm speaking on behalf of not only the fire hall, but the community as well. You guys are doing a tremendous job. Thank you much and I appreciate what you're doing.

Lori Stone: Tanner, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you today, and I look forward to many more years of hearing how things are going in Shade Gap.

Tanner Locke: Thank you, Lori. Appreciate it.

Narrator: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe on iTunesSoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at and learn about FirstNet products and services at