A local emergency notification group hopes equipment purchased this year will go a long way to improving communications for first responders in the field, especially in areas with little or no service.
The LETA 911 board, in the spring of this year, purchased a Compact Rapid Deployable unit with FirstNet capabilities, according to Kimberly Culp, CEO of LETA 911. The unit, which cost $72,000, was purchased in early spring , Culp added, to be ready before the peak of fire season hits the area.
The unit – weighing around 500 to 600 pounds and measuring around four feet long and two feet high – has the capacity to provide cell service to a wide range. Boasting a large satellite dish and an antenna that reaches 15 feet in the air, the device can help provide a wide service area even in a rural area.
In addition to the unit, which is backed by a combination of battery, gas generator and weather protection materials, LETA received two standalone access point units and 15 FirstNet-linked cell phones that can also be used in the field.
Don Patterson, a firefighter with the Burgdorf Fire Protection District and one of the people with the know-how to maintain and deploy the device, said the unit can deploy the service in a number of ways, including through AT&T. FirstNet (a broadband network for first responders), Verizon and even Wi-Fi. He said that if the Wi-Fi connection can reach an area of about 1,000 feet, the FirstNet and Verizon service can create an area of service approximately one mile in any direction.
“Because it’s so rapidly deployable and because it’s so small and compact…it’s used in so many different capacities,” he said. “I don’t think people realized where it could be used until we started using it.”
Although the unit has been used in low-stakes situations, such as during the Tour de Fat of Fort Collins last month, it has also been used in higher-stakes situations before, including a fire near Lyons in August. and the Buckhorn Canyon flood that killed two people. in July.
Culp said that in handling situations in the county for so many years, the need for immediate communication has been a gap for some time. But this unit helps alleviate that and has already proven its power.
“It bridged the gap and really filled that operational need that we had until now,” she said. “It’s to get something in the field that’s going to boost connectivity, and that’s what this unit offers.
The unit is currently housed at the LETA facility in Johnstown and undergoes monthly maintenance to ensure its software is up to date and the hardware running it is operating at optimal levels. 911 network and systems administrator Matt Brutscher and Patterson met for their monthly maintenance Thursday morning, taking the unit to temperatures below 40 degrees to ensure the unit was in top condition.
Brutscher said that in addition to the maintenance inspection, which he says ensures the unit is “always ready and available at peak performance”, LETA also undertook much of the pre-planning, mapping the existing cellular coverage in its service area. By doing this, he said, if first responder teams are heading to an area with a known lack of cellular coverage, they can request the CRD unit and bring it with them.
Culp said that since the unit is housed in the LETA facility, it remains open to their local first responder services to use it if needed. She also said LETA plans to use a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase another CRD early next year.
She said that beyond the help it provides to first responders, it could also be installed with its Wi-Fi capabilities at a designated community center during a dangerous incident so that local residents can receive or send vital messages in the event of a breakdown in their service.
“There’s a need to make sure people stay connected,” Culp said. “We understand that and we recognize that and we try to find ways to bridge that gap
Brutscher said unity is a major asset in first responder communication, which he says is absolutely essential.
“If we can’t communicate, we can’t get the right resource to the right place at the right time,” he said, later adding “being able to provide that helps us take better care of the public.”
“It’s a leap for us from what we used to do where we just know we don’t have communications and we just deal with it,” Patterson said. “Our (teams) do a phenomenal job of adapting and overcoming when they need to. But the point of this… is that we don’t have to do this for everything. a scene, not just the communication aspect.