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3 tools for improved fire-scene communications

Built-in redundancies allow these three to work when communication lines go down


Giving all emergency responders on the scene a common tool for communication has always been a challenge, and that was when it just meant radios. Today, on-scene communications can mean radios, wireless phones and tablets, smart pagers, etc.

Interoperability is the availability of relevant data across various systems geographically distributed in or outside the operations, scene of disaster or area of interest.

Often we believe that interoperability is about moving data from one system to another. Instead, interoperability should be about access to the right data.

Everyone has a different system and always will. But cloud computing and open data initiatives have made more data available online today than ever before.

Here are three selections from this rapidly growing field of information access on the emergency scene.

1. Spartan Chassis’ mobile gateway
Spartan’s gateway provides a variety of connectivity features — even if the communications infrastructure is compromised or down — and provides the gateway architecture required to enable fleet management, prognostics/diagnostics and other capabilities. It’s the type of technology that’s going to let the emergency vehicle technician and rigs talk to each other to diagnose and fix problems remotely.

The gateway boasts a maximum cellular range of up to 25 miles, providing it a better chance of finding an active cell tower, even within a disaster zone. The device can help detect and avoid overloaded cell towers and connect as needed even if the tower is farther away with minimal drop in connectivity speed.

The Wi-Fi range enables devices to connect up to 1,500 feet away. If a firefighter is on scene and away from the truck, they can still connect with and share information as needed.

Additionally, this system can serve as the gateway architecture providing access to more features including wireless pump control, remote troubleshooting, smart device vehicle checklists, fleet management and other prognostics and diagnostics capabilities.

2. Base Camp Connect
What I found most interesting about Base Camp Connect is that the system can be made operational within minutes during that crucial time — the initial stages of an incident — when incident commanders are starving for information. This mobile communication system enables incident commanders to quickly obtain a voice and data communication network when time is of the essence.

Regardless of the location of the emergency, BCC enables interoperable communications between all the first responders without any technical assistance. Therefore, it allows them to take action immediately instead of managing communications.

The efficiency and reliability of BCC is based on several communication technologies: mobile network, landline network, satellite connection, radio and VoIP. Thus, if one of them becomes unavailable for any reason (overloaded cellular network, broken cell towers, no available network, no landline network nearby, etc.), the others will take over.

BCC offers public safety agencies a tool that provides interoperability between technologies, a rugged case for portability, data security for voice and text, and auto-install that makes the unit operational within minutes of being powered up.

The system uses a single telephone inbound call in number that facilitates activation. Responding agencies and organizations do not have to remember multiple phone numbers.

BCC customizes the trunks and extensions of this system depending on the needs of the customer.

3. Beartooth
Beartooth is a software defined radio peer-to-peer communication platform that encases a wireless phone and doubles the battery life. It is not much bigger than many of the battery backup cases available. Beartooth works with Apple iPhone 5, 5S, 6 and 6 plus and with Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5.

Beartooth’s proprietary software-defined radio allows a wireless phone to communicate even without cellular or Wi-Fi service. Using Beartooth provides first responders with push-to-talk voice communication, text messaging and geolocation sharing on Beartooth’s off-line maps.

While most consumer-facing software defined radios control the receiver function, Beartooth’s software controls both the transmit and receive functions of the radio. This provides first responders with a more robust feature set of traditional two-way radios.

Beartooth’s user interface (CTCSS/DCS to filter out unwanted conversations) enables users to transmit to just their Beartooth contacts using a selective calling feature or they can communicate on the open channel.

All voice communications are peer-to-peer and secure; because Beartooth doesn’t route communications through central servers, there isn’t a common point for interception. Due to FCC regulations, voice cannot be encrypted in this portion of unlicensed spectrum.

For data and text security, text messages and geographic location data is encrypted on both ends. Like voice, data is peer-to-peer only and is not routed through any central servers.

Beartooth will require FCC approval and the company is currently working with attorneys and technical advisors who specialize in FCC approval; the company anticipates a favorable outcome. The company is taking pre-orders now with shipment expected later this year.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.