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Devices in dangerous environments: Improving the connected firefighter’s experience

March 23, 2023

The FirstNet Authority has made substantial progress over the past five years to improve how the fire service uses voice communications, video, and data. Today, fire departments are leveraging broadband with land mobile radios, connecting via mobile data terminals, and sharing video through devices such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Despite these advances, firefighters continue to search for a device they can use while wearing full protective gear and operating in environments that are immediately dangerous to life or health. So, we’re asking—what should that technology look like? What data should it monitor and transmit?

Shaping FirstNet for the fire service

Our team of fire service experts at the FirstNet Authority brings a collective 200+ years of experience working at fire departments ranging from the nation’s largest to some of the smallest.

But most of the team isn’t on the fire line today. So, we need input from those of you who are.

We want to hear from you. 
Public safety’s input was integral to the design and buildout of FirstNet, and it will be just as important in its next evolution.

Your input equals results

In 2023, the FirstNet Authority fire service team is conducting targeted outreach to fire service communities throughout the nation. Our goal is to understand and document how broadband technologies can enhance fireground operations and firefighter safety.

After these engagements, we take the feedback to our partners in academia and the telecommunications industry for further development. The 
FirstNet Authority Board can also direct investment dollars to advance network capabilities and address challenges and needs identified by the fire service.

Targeted outreach

We are looking to engage with all ranks and levels of experience in the fire service, from both career and volunteer roles, including boots-on-the-ground firefighters, company officers, incident commanders, and chief officers.

Our outreach includes three different ways of engaging with the fire service: focus groups, roundtables, and roadshows. Each engagement has a different format and focus, all with the goal of better understanding what the fire service needs on the fireground.

Focus groups on devices and operations

In our focus group sessions, small groups of firefighters come together to discuss how broadband services can be used in the different environments where they work, whether it’s fire combat, hazardous materials, or wildland fires. 

These sessions give us the opportunity to envision devices that give firefighters easy access to the rich data available to them. Some of the available data streams include biometrics, thermal imaging, video, voice, and location-based services.

In our focus sessions, we’re asking: What type of device would best deliver this data? How would you design the hardware and the display? What is the size, shape, and arrangement of your ideal device?

We want to understand how to best operationalize broadband for the demands of firefighting.

Roundtables on coverage

Coverage is king when it comes to public safety communications. Firefighters need to be able to connect, no matter where the mission takes them.

At our roundtables, we discuss the fire service’s coverage needs, whether through traditional infrastructure like cell towers and sites, 
in-building solutions to boost indoor coverage, on-demand options like deployables, or another solution that’s yet to be created.

These roundtables build on the discussions we began with the 
wildfire community when we learned ways to improve coverage for firefighters battling wildland fires. Other coverage topics may include air-to-ground coverage, maritime coverage, range extension, and device-to-device coverage.

The fire service community is called to duty in hard-to-reach places, and we want to understand how to boost FirstNet in the places where firefighters go.

Roadshow demos of FirstNet offerings

FirstNet is more than the nationwide public safety broadband network—it has created an entire ecosystem of devices, apps, and tools that are designed for public safety operations.

Our roadshow demonstrations showcase what FirstNet has to offer to members of the fire service. The roadshows highlight 
how fire agencies across the country are using FirstNet to provide better, safer, and more effective services to the people they serve. Other demonstrations include drone technology, FirstNet deployables, situational awareness apps, and vertical location mapping.

We want the fire service to experience FirstNet’s capabilities firsthand to truly understand what the network has to offer. 

Hearing from you

We invite you to join in these engagement opportunities. We’re seeking fire agencies of all sizes throughout the country to participate. Check out our events and contact Gary McCarraher, Fire Services lead, if you are interested.

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


Learn more about how FirstNet is transforming public safety communications — contact your local FirstNet Authority Public Safety Advisor and sign up for our discipline newsletters. Follow us on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn for the latest FirstNet Authority updates.

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