Colorado’s Hand Crews Ensure Accountability and Safety with goTenna Pro X + ATAK
When the Overland Hand Crew firefighters of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control were fighting the Cabin Lake Fire in Rio Blanco County, CO during the summer of 2018 the nearest cell tower was six miles away. Roaming service from the 3G tower was spotty, with firefighters frequently disconnected from the Android-based Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) servers. This poor connection had multiple negative effects, including firefighters’ reported locations jumping randomly around the map, or locations appearing as only seconds old when, in fact, they were far older. It likewise made it challenging to spot fire locations in ATAK accurately.
By pairing the ATAK-enabled phones with a goTenna Pro, firefighters were able to create an ad hoc mesh network that worked seamlessly in parallel with the unreliable traditional cell service. The goTenna Pros used UHF frequencies during the Cabin Lake Fire and provided signal across distances up to a mile in very hostile conditions. This pairing of ATAK and goTenna Pro solved the problem of dropped signals, and the positions of both fires and firefighters displayed accurately.
“The more recent fire perimeter updates helped to plan what the crew could honestly do in a single shift.”
Overland Hand Crew Boss
Colorado Division of Fire Prevention & Control
The crew experienced uninterrupted network connection enabled by the use of goTenna Pro in tandem with traditional cellular service allowed for frequent, accurate location updates for both fires and firefighters. The ability to display precise near real-time locations of fire crews, trainees, and crew boss increased not only the efficiency but also the safety of the crews.
In the case of the Cabin Lake Fire, the crew lookout also benefited from access to accurate, real-time reporting on firefighters’ locations. This situational awareness allowed the lookout to maintain oversight of the crew while they extinguished spot fires in low-visibility areas beneath dense canopy, and to watch for changes in fire behavior or weather that posed a danger to teams on the ground.
With a stable connection, the lookout was also able to push real-time mapping information to crew leaders and their supervisors via the goTenna Pro + ATAK pairing. This increased the pace of decision-making without distracting crews from their core mission of fighting fires.