FirstNet, an introduction

FirstNet logoBelow is a briefing paper for firefighters about the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) communications system.

It will be interesting to see if the system will be available in the remote areas where most large wildland fires occur.


“FirstNet and the Fire Service

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) as an independent authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide emergency responders with the first high‐speed wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. The FirstNet network will be a single, nationwide long term evolution (LTE) network that makes it easier for public safety users to communicate during emergencies and on the job every day. Think of the FirstNet network as a bigger, more reliable, secure and resilient wireless data network. This new network will provide faster access to information and wireless coverage where fire personnel need it most.

The FirstNet network will enable faster, better coordinated response to natural and manmade disasters. Just as smartphones have changed personal lives, FirstNet devices and applications will ultimately change the way career firefighters and volunteers operate. Imagine a day when one interoperable communications network can be used to dispatch an extrication team, a medical helicopter, police and EMS personnel from different jurisdictions all at the same time. Fire personnel using the FirstNet network will be able to share images, applications, and access to databases to have a common operational picture as incidents unfold.

FirstNet’s goal is to provide public safety‐grade reliability and extensive coverage so fire personnel can count on the network when they are on the job. FirstNet is also aiming to provide coverage solutions that let fire personnel “take the network along” to their destination in certain geographies. Incident commanders and local officials will have local control over the network so, for example, they can assign users and talk groups and determine who can access applications.

When the FirstNet network launches, it will provide mission‐critical, high‐speed data services to supplement the voice capabilities of today’s land mobile radio (LMR) networks. Initially, the FirstNet network will be used for sending data, video, images and text. The FirstNet network will also carry location information and eventually support streaming video. In time, FirstNet plans to offer voice over LTE (VoLTE).

After 9/11, the public safety community fought hard to fulfill the 9/11 Commission’s last standing recommendation and lobbied Congress to pass legislation establishing a dedicated, reliable network for advanced data communications nationwide. During emergencies, fire personnel need priority access and preemption, which are not available on commercial networks.

Using the FirstNet network will greatly improve situational awareness and keep fire personnel safer with an improved communications capability. It will make it possible to gain quick access to new tools and applications that provide location data and other vital information for firefighting. The FirstNet network will enable the exchange of real‐time data and audio/video feeds on the fireground to assist incident commanders with operational decision‐making and maximize search and rescue and suppression effectiveness.

FirstNet intends to offer services at a compelling and competitive cost to attract millions of public safety users and make FirstNet self‐sustaining. The use of FirstNet’s services and applications will be voluntary. The costs for FirstNet’s services and devices have not yet been set.

FirstNet is responsible for working through the designated state single points of contact (SPOC) to consult with states, local communities, tribal governments, and first responders to gather requirements for developing its network deployment plans. Fire personnel can provide input to FirstNet via the outreach efforts being coordinated by the SPOC in each state. To identify the SPOC for a state and let them know you are interested, go to . Fire personnel may also want to contact members of the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) and participate in outreach discussions at professional association meetings and conferences. More information regarding the PSAC and its membership is available at To stay up-to-date on FirstNet activities, fire personnel can track progress at”


More information.


Red Flag Warnings, April 22, 2014

wildfire Red Flag Warnings, April 22, 2014

Warnings for elevated wildfire danger have been issued by the National Weather Service for areas in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado.

The Red Flag Warning map was current as of 11:30 a.m. MDT on Tuesday. Red Flag Warnings can change throughout the day as the National Weather Service offices around the country update and revise their forecasts. For the most current data, visit this NWS site.


Showtime’s program about wildland fires and climate change

Years of Living Dangerously   Season 1   Episode 2   End of the Woods   Showtime

Showtime photo from “Years of Living Dangerously”, Season 1, Episode 2. Host Arnold Schwarzenegger is in the center wearing the clean shirt.

In case you missed Sunday night’s premier of the second episode in their Years of Living Dangerously docu-series, an episode that features wildland fires and climate change, it will be shown quite a few more times on Showtime.

Years of Living Dangerously, schedule

In this second episode, former Governor Schwarzenegger spends some time in the field with BLM’s Snake River Hotshots from Idaho and talks with Randy Anderson and others from the crew. We first told you about the series on April 9.

Below is a short clip from the program.


Firefighter fatality map

NIOSH has created an interactive mapping system that enables a web site visitor to configure and view a map showing the locations of firefighter fatalities. The U.S. Fire Administration data, for the years 1994 through 2013, can be manipulated with numerous variables, including wildland fire and the year.

Unfortunately, the way the data is displayed is not consistent. Some multiple-fatality incidents are represented by a purple arrow with the number of fatalities. A quick look found, for example, that the 14 fatalities on the 1994 South Canyon Fire are represented by an icon that usually indicates a single fatality, and it does not include a number. In addition, it is not placed in the correct location in west-central Colorado.

Maybe it is a work in progress.

Below are a couple of examples of maps that can be produced. The first shows wildland fire fatalities in 2013 and the next is from 1994 through 2013.

NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Map, 2013 NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Map, 1994- 2013In spite of the bugs, which hopefully will get worked out, NIOSH should be congratulated for putting together this tool which could be very useful.



Historic newsreels about wildland fire

Daniel Godwin was kind enough to send us information about numerous historic newsreels about wildland fire that have been converted to digital videos. The short films that we list below are a small portion of the 85,000 recorded by British Pathé  between 1896 and 1976 that were recently posted on YouTube.

In case you are not familiar with newsreels, here is how they are described on Wikipidia:

newsreel is a form of short documentary film prevalent in the first half of the twentieth century, regularly released in a public presentation place and containing filmed news stories and items of topical interest. It was a source of news, current affairs, and entertainment for millions of moviegoers until television supplanted its role in the 1950s. Newsreels are now considered significant historical documents, since they are often the only audiovisual record of historical and cultural events of those times.

Newsreels were typically featured as short subjects preceding the main feature film into the 1960s. There were dedicated newsreel theaters in many major cities in the 1930s and 1940s, and some large city cinemas also included a smaller theaterette where newsreels were screened continuously throughout the day.

British Pathé’s YouTube channel with the 85,000 videos can be found here.

Below we have embedded four of the videos, and below those are links to others about wildland fire.

Minnesota burning, 1936:

NorCal, 1965:

French Riviera, 1957:

Bremerton, 1938, using US Navy for suppression:


Thanks Daniel!


The true cost of wildfire

White Draw Fire, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Firefighters arrive at the White Draw Fire near Edgemont, SD, June 29, 2012. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

A conference in Glenwood Springs, Colorado on Wednesday and Thursday of this week explored a topic that does not make the news very often. It was titled The True Cost of Wildfire.

Usually the costs we hear associated with wildfires are what firefighters run up during the suppression phase. The National Incident Management Situation Report provides those daily for most ongoing large fires.

But other costs may be many times that of just suppression, and can include structures burned, crops and pastures ruined, economic losses from decreased tourism, medical treatment for the effects of smoke, salaries of law enforcement and highway maintenance personnel, counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, costs incurred by evacuees, infrastructure shutdowns, rehab of denuded slopes, flood and debris flow prevention, and repairing damage to reservoirs filled with silt.

And of course we can’t put a monetary value on the lives that are lost in wildfires. In Colorado alone, fires since 2000 have killed 8 residents and 12 firefighters.

The total cost of a wildfire can be mitigated by fire-adaptive communities, hazard fuel mitigation, fire prevention campaigns, and prompt and aggressive initial attack of new fires with overwhelming force by ground and air resources. Investments in these areas can save large sums of money. And, it can save lives, something we don’t hear about very often when it comes to wildfire prevention and mitigation; or spending money on adequate fire suppression resources.

Below are some excerpts from a report on the conference that appeared in the Grand Junction Sentinel:

[Fire ecologist Robert] Gray said the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico ended up having a total estimated cost of $906 million, of which suppression accounted for only 3 percent.

Creede Mayor Eric Grossman said the [West Fork Complex] in the vicinity of that town last summer didn’t damage one structure other than a pumphouse. But the damage to its tourism-based economy was immense.

“We’re a three-, four-month (seasonal tourism) economy and once that fire started everybody left, and rightfully so, but the problem was they didn’t come back,” he said.

A lot of the consequences can play out over years or even decades, Gray said.

He cited a damaging wildfire in Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada, where post-traumatic stress disorder in children didn’t surface until a year afterward. Yet thanks to the damage to homes from the fire there were fewer medical professionals still available in the town to treat them.

“You’re dealing with a grieving process” in the case of landowners who have lost homes, said Carol Ekarius, who as executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte has dealt with watershed and other issues in the wake of the 2002 Hayman Fire and other Front Range fires.

The Hayman Fire was well over 100,000 acres in size and Ekarius has estimated its total costs at more than $2,000 an acre. That’s partly due to denuded slopes that were vulnerable to flooding, led to silt getting in reservoirs and required rehabilitation work.

“With big fires always come big floods and big debris flows,” Ekarius said.

Gray said measures such as mitigating fire danger through more forest thinning can reduce the risks. The 2013 Rim Fire in California caused $1.8 billion in environmental and property damage, or $7,800 an acre, he said.

“We can do an awful lot of treatment at $7,800 an acre and actually save money,” he said.

Bill Hahnenberg, who has served as incident commander on several fires, said many destructive fires are human-caused because humans live in the wildland-urban interface.

“That’s why I think we should maybe pay more attention to fire prevention,” he said.

Just how large the potential consequences of fire can be was demonstrated in Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam Fire. In that case the incident commander was close to evacuating the entire town, Hahnenberg said.

“How would that play (out)?” he said. “I’m not just picking on Glenwood, it’s a question for many communities. How would you do that?”

He suggested it’s a scenario communities would do well to prepare for in advance.

The chart below from shows that federal spending per wildfire has exceeded $100,000 on an annual basis several times since 2002. Since 2008 the cost per acre has varied between $500 and $1,000. These numbers do not include most of the other associated costs we listed above. (click on the chart to see a larger version)

Cost per wildfire acre