A dangerous wildfire tore through rural areas of Somervell County, Texas, in July 2022. The Chalk Mountain wildfire’s rapid and unpredictable spread threatened homes and businesses and was fueled by scorching temperatures and drought-like conditions that zapped moisture from vegetation and soil in the area.
The local fire department and sheriff's office quickly mobilized to tackle the unfolding crisis. However, response was hindered by the rugged terrain and the intensity of the fire, which created issues with maintaining coverage. Responders couldn’t share data in real time, which is critical to coordinating a safe, effective response. It became clear that a specialized solution was needed.
FirstNet’s SatCOLT bridges communication gaps
Recognizing the urgent need for a dependable and secure connection, Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Willis of the Somervell County Fire Department and Sheriff Alan West of the Somervell Sheriff’s Office reached out to AT&T to deploy a FirstNet SatCOLT. SatCOLTs, or satellite cell on light trucks, are mobile cell sites designed to establish a steady and consistent broadband connection. During the Chalk Mountain wildfire, this network asset was pivotal to supporting communications and data sharing among responding agencies.
“We made the phone call for mutual aid, for supplies, and for the SatCOLT,” said Sheriff West. “The SatCOLT truck was there in a short time. We were so busy and that help was there. It rolled in and boomed up and was right where things were needed. It was a blessing in disguise.”
With improved connectivity through FirstNet, public safety officials could use satellite imagery, mapping tools, and other data to strategize. This development also enhanced collaboration among responding public safety agencies, which proved critical to quelling the wildfire.
“We were able to look at the weather reports, satellite photos, and Google Earth,” said Assistant Chief Willis, emphasizing the importance of real-time data to make informed decisions. “All those things really helped us identify the spots where we were able to stop the advancement of the fire. Those resources are paramount to us getting the job done and gaining control of a very bad situation.”
“When you look at your radio operations and your phone operations — those things are so key and vital to the safety and security of your guys going home each day to their families,” said Sheriff West. “FirstNet stood up to get us the SatCOLT truck here. There’s no telling how important this support was throughout that battle that we had.”
A unified strategy to protect the community
The Chalk Mountain wildfire posed a formidable challenge due to its location, size, and unpredictable nature. The fire burned approximately, 6,755 acres of land and damaged multiple properties. With help from FirstNet’s reliable connection, Somervell’s responders safeguarded the lives of the local community and lessened the amount of property destruction.
“You know, it was a community effort. People stepping up, people coming together. It’s amazing to see that when things get tough, people put aside their differences and work together,” said Sheriff West.
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