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Radio is the lifeblood for safety on the fireground.

Australian fire app focuses on firefighter safety

The South Australian Country Fire Service (CFS) provides first-line response to rural fires and road accidents across an area of 985,000 square kilometers with 14,500 volunteer firefighters. During 2013 – 2014, CFS responded to 18,115 incidents. That figure has been steadily rising, increasing 38 percent in the past 10 years.

When fighting fires, crews are structured in a hierarchical fashion. Strike teams are coordinated by strike team leaders who respond to a sector commander, who in turn, works under the control of an incident commander. The incident commander is ultimately responsible to the state operations center.

CFS uses the UHF South Australian Government Radio Network (GRN) for command and control. The state government recently awarded Motorola a contract to upgrade the network, which comprises about 220 radio sites, from SmartZone technology to the Project 25 (P25) standard. For fireground communications, CFS uses analog VHF radios, predominantly in simplex mode to avoid tying up the GRN trunked network resources.

A separate recent contract awarded to South Australian company Tetracom calls for CFS to implement P25 digital radios and provide enhanced operational efficiencies and firefighter safety using a data application overlaid on its VHF P25 radios.

The application is intended to overcome difficulties with:

  • Knowing the exact whereabouts of appliances under the strike team leader’s control because of obscured visibility from smoke or undulating terrain.
  • Maintaining better situational awareness of appliances that may be running low on water, reaching high cabin temperatures or other critical circumstances.
  • Managing the best placement of appliances, taking into account the wind direction and fire front information that is available from other sources.
  • Responding in the most efficient and timely manner to firefighters who are under duress or in an emergency situation.
  • Recalling radio traffic events for post-incident analysis and training.
Radio is the lifeblood for safety on the fireground.

Radio is the lifeblood for safety on the fireground.

Proof of Concept

The data application contract calls for a proof of concept for a strike team leader application that will include a topographic mapping interface showing vehicle locations, a track of the fire front, wind direction, key status states such as low water and emergency, radio traffic voice recording and the ability to send text messages. The application will reside on a wireless tablet that communicates with a Wi-Fi gateway in the strike team leader’s vehicle. The gateway will interface to the vehicle’s P25 radio, which will receive the data sent by appliances that are under the control of the strike team leader. The gateway will also be capable of interfacing to other communications devices, such as cellular modems or GRN radios, to provide access to the information at a remote location if necessary.

For the proof of concept, Tetracom will set up a strike team with all the hardware and most software features implemented so CFS can trial the concept at its training grounds. The application is being developed with the cooperation of critical communications provider Tait Communications, which will provide the fireground P25 equipment, and Omnitronics, which will provide a customized version of its RediTALK Air product along with the Wi-Fi gateway.

Standard P25 status messaging and GPS messages, which are sent from the appliances to the strike team leader’s vehicle, will be the signaling used. The user interface will be structured to provide as much information as possible in a simple, clean and uncluttered format so users can easily identify the information needed to efficiently manage their resources.

The map will display vehicle icons using colors to signify each vehicle’s status: green for normal operation, yellow for low water indication and red for an emergency/duress state. That simple differentiation will allow the strike team leader to prioritize resources and ensure optimum safety of all personnel.

In another purpose-driven development, Tait will implement software that will enable radios to display the relative position (distance and bearing) of a transmitting radio using P25 GPS information. That feature will be particularly useful in duress situations where strike team members need to locate a nearby team member who may be injured or requires immediate assistance.

The tablet will store audio files holding all voice traffic, enabling CFS to review how crews handled an incident and optimize training processes.

Once implemented, the system will simplify the role of the strike team leader and allow use of P25 technology to better manage the task of coordinating personnel and resources. That will result in more efficient, safer operations while operating on the fireground.

For more information, go to www.tetracom.com.au

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