New $24.6 million GPS radio system to make Victoria’s firefighters safer

The following information was provided by the office of the Premier of Victoria, Australia last year.

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Minister for Environment and Climate Change Ryan Smith today announced work has begun to install 6,000 new communications radios in firefighting vehicles, aircraft, incident control centres, fire towers and work centres throughout Victoria.Mr Smith said the $24.6 million project would see the current 19 year-old radio fleet replaced with a state-of-the-art system to better protect emergency services personnel and Victorian communities.

“This program will see vital new communications radios, which are digital-capable, installed in firefighting vehicles and aircraft throughout Victoria,” Mr Smith said.

“New handheld radios will also be provided for use by operational staff.

“Communications are a crucial part of effective bushfire response. Upgrading communications infrastructure enhances the capability of our emergency services to protect communities and firefighting personnel from bushfire.”

Mr Smith said the radio replacement project would be led by the Department of Primary Industries and Environment (DEPI).

“Each radio unit will be equipped with a GPS tracking system enabling incident managers to track the location of vehicles and firefighters in real time – improving fire ground operations, logistics and firefighter safety,” Mr Smith said.

“The new radios are also compatible with CFA systems along with those of the SES and our neighbouring states, which will simplify communications between the firefighting agencies when they are working together on the fireground.”

Two thousand radios are expected to be installed during the next six months, with the remainder scheduled for installation ahead of the 2014/15 fire season.

Mr Smith said the replacement of the radios addressed, in part, recommendation 22 from the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission. The recommendation calls for standardisation of information and communications systems within DEPI and the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

“I’m proud of the progress the Coalition Government has made in preparing the state for bushfires. There has been a lot of hard work done in response to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, including projects such as this,” Mr Smith said.

“We’re committed to reducing the risk of bushfires and making Victorians safer. ”

Mr Smith said the Coalition Government had budgeted to spend $338.7 million on land and fire management in the 2013-14 financial year. This includes an extra $9 million to expand the planned burning program.

The Coalition Government’s planned burning program hit a 30 year high this year with 253,000 hectares of planned burning undertaken.

A Telstra consortium has been awarded the radio replacement contract.

The consortium consists of Telstra, Tait Communications (NZ)) and AA Radio Communications (Australia).

About the new radios:
  • DEPI manages the Network Emergency Organisations (NEO) radio terminal fleet comprising DEPI, Parks Victoria, VicForests and Melbourne Water.
  • After a public expression of interest and selective tender process, a consortium comprising Telstra, Tait Communications (a New Zealand design and manufacturing company) and AA Radio Communications (a local radio installation and service provider) won the contract
  • The new radios are compatible with the existing DEPI / CFA communications infrastructure, the State Mobile Radio Trunked Network and DEPI / CFA Incident Channel Networks and fire ground communications.
  • Interoperability with SES and bordering states’ communications systems has been incorporated.
  • The new radios allow for an easy transition to the new digital P25 emergency service standards and planned digital future for Victorian communications networks.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) displays enable users of in-vehicle and hand held radio units to use multiple mapping formats to provide enhanced interoperability.
  • Where a network exists, the GPS information is sent back to the DEPI tracking system and displayed on FireMap for vehicle tracking, allowing commanders to see the location of resources.
  • Enhanced battery life, increasing reliability when long operations shifts are required.

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Thanks and a hat tip go out to Cameron.

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Cell phone company offers vehicle tracking service

We have been advocating what we call the Holy Grail of Firefighter Safety — a system that can provide two things in real time:

  1. The location of a wildfire, and,
  2. The location of ground-based firefighting resources, including engines, water tenders, overhead personnel, dozers, and dismounted (walking) firefighters.

We are convinced that the lives of 24 firefighters could have been saved in the last eight years if a system like this had been available which can provide a “common operational picture” (COP), a standard process in the military.

Many companies offer solutions to provide the location of personnel and equipment. To illustrate how mainstream these services have become, below is a video that describes a vehicle tracking service from a cell phone company which can collect location data via cell phone networks or through satellites, so presumably it would work in very remote locations. This may or may not be feasible for tracking wildland fire vehicles, and apparently it is not for individuals, but it is an example of some of the technology that is available right now. Off the shelf. This afternoon. The U.S. Forest Service has begun a 2-year study to make a recommendation on how to proceed toward either acquiring, or doing nothing about obtaining Holy Grail capability.

The wildland fire agencies will be negligent if they do not provide this in the near future.

Other similar systems include the Blue Sky Network, the  military C4ISR system now known as the Department of Defense Architecture Framework (DoDAF), and many other fleet tracking solutions.

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Montana: Lost Horse Fire burns through boulder fields

Map of Lost Horse Fire

Google Earth 3-D map of Lost Horse Fire 1:30 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2014.

The Lost Horse Fire 10 miles southwest of Hamilton, Montana is an interesting study in wildland fire behavior and fire suppression tactics. The 40-acre fire is burning in boulder and rock scree fields where the primary method of spreading is through spotting — burning embers traveling hundreds of feet or more and starting new fires in receptive fuels. Some of the patches of vegetation appear to be an acre or more, but most of them are small. The fire is burning on very steep terrain. That fact and the large bounders make it very difficult for firefighters to even walk around in the fire area.

On Saturday three helicopters dropped 72,900 gallons of water on the fire. A large air tanker dropped more than 4,000 gallons of fire retardant on the ridge to try and keep the fire from moving further north.

If you are used to building a fireline to suppress fires, this one already has “firelines” pretty much everywhere – the boulder and rock scree fields that comprise more of the area than the vegetation does.

There is no place for a helicopter to land in the boulders. Rappellers have said they could rappel into the area but there is not much they could do once they are on the ground. So far the only attack has been from helicopters and an air tanker.

Looking at the video below and images from Google Earth, there is more continuous vegetation on the ridge and on the north side, but trying to build fireline where trees grow out of crevices between large rocks would be difficult.

This might be the classic case of needing to back off and find a place from which a burnout could occur, or just try to cool it off from the air to reduce torching and spotting — apparently what they are doing now. If they do nothing but monitor it, it might run out of fuel in a while, or it could be a real pain in the ass for the next four to eight weeks of fire season.

Lost Horse Fire

Screen grab from video of Lost Horse Fire.

Lost Horse Fire

Lost Horse Fire. Undated USFS photo.

You can keep up with the fire on InciWeb and Facebook.

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Updated: missing firefighter in Montana found

(UPDATED at 8 p.m. MDT, July 28, 2014)

The missing firefighter that got separated from his crew overnight in Montana has been identified as 30-year old Justin Wall, in his fourth summer fighting fire with the Bitterroot National Forest.

When he was found at 3 p.m. today he did not have any obvious injuries, but was described as “disoriented” and very hungry by the searchers who discovered him. As this is written Monday evening Mr. Wall is still in the hospital in Hamilton, Montana undergoing a CT Scan and other tests, according to U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Tod McKay.

The search involved multiple aircraft and more than 50 searchers on the ground. Ravalli County Search and Rescue was assisted by the Bitterroot National Forest, Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and Granite County Search and Rescue.

“We are so thankful and relieved that Justin was found today and is in stable condition,” said Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor Julie King. “I would like to thank Ravalli County Search and Rescue and all the volunteers and organizations who assisted with this search. It was because of their quick response, teamwork, and professionalism that this search ended positively.

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(UPDATED at 3:19 p.m. MDT, July 28, 2014)

The firefighter that had been missing since Sunday, July 27, has been found walking on Skalkaho Rye Road three miles from where he was last seen. Initial information from U.S. Forest Service sources reported that the firefighter was not injured and did not need medical assistance, but later information said he was transported to Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, Montana.

While the crew was hiking 1.5 miles in to the fire on Sunday, he was lagging behind and told the supervisor that he was having trouble with his boot and would catch up with them later. The rest of the crew continued to the fire, but when he did not show up they began searching for him.

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(Originally published at 11:23 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2014. This article will be updated as more information is available.)

A wildland firefighter working on a fire on the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana is missing. Tod McKay, the Public Affairs Officer for the Bitterroot National Forest, said the firefighter was a member of an eight-person hand crew working out of Darby, Montana mopping up the one-acre Weasel Fire Sunday afternoon July 27 when reported missing. The other firefighters began a search and notified Ravalli County Search and Rescue, which is continuing the effort today.

The Weasel Fire is about 10 miles east of Hamilton and 40 miles south of Missoula near the border of the Bitterroot and Beaverhead/Deerlodge National Forests. The fire had been contained on Saturday and was being checked and mopped up by the Darby crew on Sunday.

In August of last year another U.S. Forest Service firefighter was reported as missing while fighting a fire in New Mexico. Seven days later the body of Engine Captain Token Adams was found, the victim of a fatal all terrain vehicle crash. That fatality prompted additional discussion about systems that could track the location of firefighters.

We hope there will be a better outcome for this latest missing firefighter.

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Two fires in Yosemite; one threatens structures

(UPDATED at 11 a.m. PDT, July 29, 2014)

Map of the El Portal and Dark Hole Fires

Map of the El Portal and Dark Hole Fires, 10:30 p.m., July 28, 2014. Yosemite NP is on the right or east side of the green line.

Above is an updated map of the El Portal and Dark Hole Fires in Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of the fire on July 27 but does not have a current update on InciWeb.

El Portal Fire

The El Portal Fire has burned 3,060 acres and the incident management team is calling it 19 percent contained. Resources assigned include 640 personnel and 7 helicopters. One structure burned in the community of Foresta; others are still threatened.

Dark Hole Fire

This 580-acre fire  4.5 miles north of Yosemite Valley is being managed “for minimum impact to wilderness character” by the same Type 1 Team suppressing the El Portal Fire.

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(UPDATED at 9:30 a.m. MDT, July 28, 2014)

Map of El Portal Fire, July 27, 2014

Map of El Portal Fire, July 27, 2014. (click to enlarge)

Carlton Joseph’s Type 1 Incident Management Team assumed command of both the El Portal and the Dark Hole Fires Sunday night.

El Portal Fire. NPS photo.

El Portal Fire. Undated NPS photo.

El Portal Fire

On Sunday the size of the fire was reported at 2,632 acres, and includes land in both Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. Firefighters are reporting no containment on the fire. It started Saturday afternoon in the Old El Portal area of the park’s administrative site and grew rapidly from there.

Evacuations are still in effect for Foresta and Old El Portal. One structure has burned in Foresta and approximately 90 residences are threatened.

The Big Oak Flat Road between Crane Flat and the El Portal Road is temporarily closed. There is no access to Yosemite Valley via the Big Oak Flat or Tioga Roads or Highway 120. Tioga Road is open and accessible via Big Oak Flat and Tioga Pass Entrances.

The fire is threatening the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias within the National Park. Due to the steep and remote terrain there will be a heavy dependence on Type 1 Hand Crews and aviation assets.

Dark Hole Fire

The Dark Hole Fire is 4.5 miles north of Yosemite Valley and about 2 miles south of Highway 120/Tioga Road. Following a lightning storm it was detected on July 16 about a mile south of Yosemite Creek campground.

Information about the fire provided by Yosemite National Park on July 24 seemed to indicate that the fire was to be “managed”, and not totally suppressed. That strategy may be reevaluated in light of the fact that it has grown to 585 acres, spreading to the east and north over the last 24 hours, and with 2 to 4 months of fire season remaining.

Half Dome at 9:23 a.m. PDT, July 28, 2014.

Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, obscured by smoke at 9:23 a.m. PDT, July 28, 2014.

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