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09 January 2018

Support for Fire Crews from Space

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7 min.
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As fire authorities strive to improve operational efficiency, and to better safeguard crew, they are increasingly turning to state-of-the-art satellite communications technology. Gavan Murphy, Director of Marketing, EMEA at Globalstar explains why.

Castilla La Mancha is a vast region in central Spain. With its dry and often very hot climate, forest blazes and wildfires are a fact of life for people and businesses in the region. Junta de Castilla La Mancha, the administrative authority whose responsibilities include forest and wildfire management, employ some 2,000 response personnel who are always on standby to help keep forest and wildfire at bay.

The local administration decided that it should invest in new technology to help its team more effectively contain and extinguish fires. Moreover, the administration recognised a need to help crews communicate better in emergency situations and to enhance safety in the extremely dangerous situations they routinely face.

Junta officials started talking to wildfire solutions specialist Technosylva, provider of fire behaviour analysis and management software, to learn about what options were available.

Joaquin Ramirez Cisneros, Principal Consultant at Technosylva, explains why Globalstar’s SPOT Gen3 was chosen to meet the Junta’s requirements as an integral part of his company’s Wildfire Management System, fiResponse.

“To keep firefighters safe, it is critical to know where exactly they are at all times,” he explains.

“The positions of the crew members need to be known in relation to the engine and equipment resources being used, and it is particularly important to know how far away they are from the heart of the fire. Providing these professional teams with the communications and support they need in the extremely dangerous situation of wildfire is an absolute must.”

SPOT Gen3 is a rugged, pocket-sized, affordable personal GPS messenger that helps users stay connected. Because it uses satellite technology, users do not need to worry about whether there might be a GSM signal.

Ramirez Cisneros points to two major benefits for firefighters: the SPOT Gen3’s integrated sensors that report when the device is moving and its ability to be charged by USB.

And he should know. Prior to the new deployment with Junta de Castilla La Mancha, he has provided mission-critical technology to fire-fighting organisations in Spain, USA, Canada, and in Chile.

Juan Bautista Garcia, Wild Fire Co-ordinator at GEACAM (Public Agency of Castilla La Mancha) comments:

"Tracking our units with the reliability the SPOT Gen 3 provides fundamentally changes the way we can face operations. Not only is safety dramatically improved, providing situational awareness in real time to all of the organisation, it also helps to improve our response and tactics. The integration of the SPOT Gen3 within fiResponse is helping us to provide a better service accomplishing the highest standards of safety in the most efficient way."

If a firefighter needs help urgently, with the single press of a button on SPOT, emergency services are alerted, his or her GPS coordinates will be transmitted, and a rescue operation is initiated. Emergency services co-ordinators can precisely track each fire fighting team’s location, via a user-friendly display of GPS positions in near real-time on Google Maps. To date, over 3,900 rescues have taken place around the globe thanks to SPOT.

SPOT Gen3 provides off-the-grid messaging, emergency alerts, extra long battery life, and extreme GPS tracking, with track check-points capable of taking place as frequently as every 2 ½ minutes. Co-ordinators  can use the convenient SPOT App to easily view their SPOT messages, show user’s track points and monitor people or assets via a smartphone or tablet.

Additionally, with the SPOT Trace satellite tracking devices attached to pumps, helicopters and aerial fire apparatus, operations coordinators can know precisely where their resources are, where they need to be, and how much time it will take for them to get there.

Affordable, reliable connectivity and real-time GPS tracking is a daily reality for SPOT users, providing reassurance to colleagues and family when there is unreliable or no mobile coverage.

One can hardly think of a job that is more important and yet more dangerous than trying to contain and extinguish out-of-control forest and wildfires. State-of-the-art satellite communications now form an important part of modern firefighting. Globalstar is extremely proud of the role that SPOT and its satellite network play in supporting firefighters in their efforts.


Providing Communications and Safety for Firefighters is Simply Good Practice

Improving working conditions and welfare for fire crews, for whom working in potentially hazardous environments is simply part of the job, is essential. Providing remote working fire crew with the communications capabilities to help improve worker safety surely go a long way to improving morale.

With every new emergency situation, the team needs to quickly assess what is needed and to deploy the crew and equipment to the right places at the right times. Traditional radio communications can work well, but in any region that is remote, radio, and even GSM mobile, might not be reliable enough.

When multiple agencies are co-ordinating fire containment, rescue and recovery operations, they need to be able to communicate reliably and speedily to make operational activities proceed more smoothly and efficiently. Reliable connectivity helps alleviate the stress we all experience when we need to make an urgent call or send a vital email, yet no matter how hard we try, we simply can’t get a stable Wi-Fi or 3G/4G signal.

To add to the safety imperative, access by emergency services can often require specialist support such as an air ambulance. All told, remotely working fire crew require a communications system they can trust, rain or shine, and that enables an always-on link with colleagues.

A satellite-based communications solution offers the only viable communications lifeline.


Improve morale, improve efficiency

Being able to stay in touch with home boosts morale and welfare among crew who are away for extended periods of time. They need an easy way to call friends and family, and with today’s stretched public budgets, ideally one which is low-cost.

A new low-cost device is now able to deliver that welfare-enhancing connectivity that crews demand more and more. With Sat-Fi from Globalstar, wherever they are, crew can keep in touch with colleagues and family using their own smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Using a Sat-Fi satellite hotspot, which is the world’s most powerful in its class, crew members can make and receive voice calls and email using an app that runs on any Wi-fi enabled device. Up to eight users can use their own phones to make and receive calls and get online over Globalstar’s next-generation satellite network, even if they are in remote regions.

A Sat-Fi satellite hotspot offers connectivity up to 100 feet from the antenna. It’s also easy to set up - users simply download the Sat-Fi app from Apple iTunes or the Google Play store and the app connects to voice and data services. It also provides access to emergency services when required.

Once the user-friendly concept of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) was confined to the office. Now, thanks to satellite technology, it is extended out to the world’s most remote regions, bringing new-found freedom and safety for remote rescue teams everywhere.

For more information about Sat-Fi, a service coverage map and a list of authorised dealers, visit here.

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