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In-building solutions for EMS: Bridging the gap between FirstNet in the field and the station

March 16, 2023

FirstNet’s Cell Booster Pro is a valuable tool for EMS to bridge the gap between FirstNet service in the field and when responders return to the station. This in-building solution boosts FirstNet coverage indoors where EMS officials work. Two EMS agencies that use the device share their experiences and advice for other agencies.

Better signals inside brick and mortar

Indoor signals can sometimes be affected by a building’s structure, layout, or geography. FirstNet’s Cell Booster Pro is a device that acts as a miniature cell tower to improve the quality of your agency’s indoor FirstNet service.

Curtis Eggleton is Deputy Chief and EMS Coordinator for Markey Township Fire Department in northern Michigan. He said, “In our station we didn't have good coverage for cell signals. We are in a brick and steel building, and we could get maybe one bar if you were close to the window. And Wi-Fi calling wasn't super reliable.”

This experience is common. At the FirstNet Authority, we heard from other EMS agencies who said they needed better indoor coverage from FirstNet.

As a result of this feedback, the FirstNet Authority Board approved an investment for in-building coverage last May, and by September, AT&T began rolling it out to eligible subscribing agencies. 

Full bars indoors

Each Cell Booster Pro device provides up to 15,000 square feet of coverage. A maximum of three devices can be deployed in a single location, so the solution can provide in-building coverage to a facility as large as 45,000 square feet.

In Markey Township, the EMS station is approximately 12,500 square feet. Installing a Cell Booster Pro made a big difference for the agency’s indoor coverage. “FirstNet shipped it out, I set it up, and we've loved it,” said Curtis. “It has helped immensely because I get full bars now almost everywhere inside.” 

Communicating with the station

Franklin County is in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. Technology is important to the county’s operations. “We're a rural county that's starting to have a lot of spillover from our urban neighbors, and we're seeing the need for technology,” said EMS Director Jim Gusler. “FirstNet gave us a good platform. Everybody has FirstNet for their work phones.”

While Franklin County EMS had success with FirstNet in the field, back at the station, indoor connectivity was an issue. “This building is an old factory with a lot of masonry inside and around the perimeter of the building,” explained Jim. “So not only does cell service not get in here very well, but also, radio service doesn't get in here well either.”

This limited connectivity was causing communication challenges between responders in the field and personnel at the station. Jim explained, “We were missing some of that contact with the EMS supervisors and administration who were in the building.”

They requested a Cell Booster Pro to install inside the station. “Indoor coverage is much better now. We haven't hit any areas inside the building where we have issues,” said Jim. 

No cost solution

Through the investment from the FirstNet Authority, this in-building solution can be provided at no cost to subscribing agencies. This makes a difference for agencies with tight technology budgets.

“Franklin County is a small county of 70,000 people. Technology is a big issue here,” said Jim. “We don't have the resources sometimes.”

Up to three devices are available for a single location, and up to 50 devices across multiple locations are available. Additional devices can be purchased. 

Installation process

The devices can either be self-installed or AT&T can help with the installation.

The self-installation process was simple for Markey Township EMS. Curtis explained, “I followed the instructions, and it connected within 45 minutes. When I saw it go from one bar to full bars, I was like, ‘Okay, that's cool.’”

For Franklin County EMS, they encountered issues in connecting the device because of the county’s IT firewalls. They have engaged AT&T’s professional installers who are working together with the county’s IT department. In the meantime, they’ve found a workaround.

“FirstNet is working well for us,” said Jim.   

To learn more about how FirstNet is helping public safety and the EMS community to leverage innovative public safety communications, sign up for the EMS newsletter.  


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