When wildfires spark, FirstNet wildfire response team is ready

October 7, 2022

by Fred Scalera - Director, Response Operations Group FirstNet Program at AT&T

A little fuel and a spark is all it takes for fire to blaze. Add some wind and you quickly have an inferno, threatening homes, structures and anything in its path. So, when disaster strikes, communications are critical to coordinating an effective response. FirstNet®, Built with AT&T – the only network built with and for America’s first responders – provides swift and agile support to firefighters protecting our communities.

And recognizing the increased frequency and destructiveness of these fires, we created a special Wildfire Response Team to help support first responders.

As public safety’s partner, we understand wildfires have unique challenges. That’s why we collaborated with the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA) to create a specialized team within the Response Operations Group to directly support wildfire response. Each of these highly trained wildland fire practitioners – about a dozen total – have first-hand experience operating in a fire command environment. Plus, FirstNet ROG has nearly 300 dedicated professionals nationwide, as well as Section Chiefs supporting the 10 FEMA regions.

“FirstNet is designed to be second-to-none in any emergency,” said Bryan Green, Region 10 Section Chief, for the FirstNet Response Operations Group at AT&T and a former Lieutenant with Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the City of Newberg Fire Department. “Wildfires pose many unique challenges and our Wildfire Response team has the expertise and experience to integrate with incident command management and communication leads.”

So far this year, FirstNet has responded to more than 60 wildfire response requests in 13 states, including:

  • Lightning Strikes in Washington: On July 18, FirstNet got a request for additional connectivity support. Lightning started the Stayman Flats fire scorching 1,200 acres in steep canyons – and threatening homes. In the canyons, the initial attack crews did not have LMR radio connectivity. They called on FirstNet for help and the FirstNet team deployed a dedicated FirstNet Satellite Cell on Light Truck (SatCOLT) in the middle of the night to provide mission-critical communications for fire suppression coordination.

  • Yosemite Burns: The Washburn Fire burned nearly 5,000 acres in the National Park, threatening historic buildings, campgrounds and the giant sequoias. On behalf of public safety, FirstNet deployed 3 SatCOLTs to provide priority communications for Incident Command, the briefing area and fire operations – all at no additional charge. The FirstNet team also was onsite to deliver FirstNet Ready® devices for first responders in the field, giving them unthrottled access to their network.

  • The Yeti Fire near Happy Camp, California. This fire created a need for a call to FirstNet on July 30. The steep mountain terrain, high winds and a fire that created its own weather system threatened the community along the river ravine. Escape routes were changing by the minute. The challenging terrain for firefighters made situational awareness planning even more crucial for their safety. The newly created Wildfire Response Team rolled out 2 Compact Rapid Deployables (CRDs) and a SatCOLT for priority communications. The fire has burned more than 7,000 acres to date.

These are just a few examples of the wildfires FirstNet responded to this year alone.

Our intimate understanding of the public safety mission is providing the more than 21,800 agencies on FirstNet with unparalleled emergency support. FirstNet ROG guides the deployment of network solutions based on the needs of public safety, coordinating across federal, state, local and tribal agencies with a focus on life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. In addition to the 150+ dedicated assets in the nationwide FirstNet fleet – including SatCOLTs, CRDs and the new Communications Vehicles – public safety can tap into the 300+ assets from the AT&T Network Disaster Recovery fleet when available.

We’ve deployed more than 700 full scale solutions to support first responders across the country – helping them stay connected.  From expediting network restoration and providing in-building connectivity to rolling out the FirstNet fleet, we’re working to help them operate faster, safer and more effectively when lives are on the line. It’s just one more reason public safety’s network is a cut above the rest.