Colorado’s Helitack Crews Use goTenna Pro X + ATAK to Track Ground Team Locations
On the morning of July 7, 2018, the Montrose Helitack fire crew was called upon to help fight the Tabeguache Fire in rural Montrose County in the Uncompahgre National Forest.
Driven in part by numerous lightning strikes, the Tabeguache Fire quickly grew from 2 acres to over 500 acres in just days. The terrain where the fire was raging was rugged, with steep canyons blocking cell service and making communication difficult.
Montrose Helitack was equipped with goTenna Pro X, a tactical mesh-networking radio that integrates with TAK and enables communication in cellular-denied environments.
The fire crew relied on goTenna Pro X + ATAK to improve coordination within wildland fire crews already in the area, coordinate the chase truck convoy that follows their helicopter, and once on the ground to maintain situational awareness on the status of the helicopter.
When the ground convoy entered a deep canyon and the server connection was lost, location tracking via the goTenna Pro X + ATAK switched over automatically. This switch-over happened without the need for manual intervention, ensuring constant positioning data.
Two chainsaw teams and a squad boss trainee hiked into a steep canyon that was burning. With no cell phone service in the canyon, the firefighters relied on their goTenna Pro X + ATAK to maintain communication as the chainsaw teams set to work and the squad boss trainee scouted the fire below them.
"The chainsaw teams could see [using goTenna Pro X + ATAK] that the trainee was moving away from the spot fires back toward them, which provided substantial peace of mind as all firefighters began to fall back."
Montrose Helitak fire crew
The squad boss trainee found two spot fires had jumped a fire break laid down earlier in the day and used his goTenna Pro X + ATAK to transmit the locations of those spot fires to the chainsaw teams.
One chainsaw team headed toward the spot fires to contain them, but fire activity began increasing, forcing the teams to pull back. Voice radio traffic was heavy, and radio programming issues made it difficult to reach the squad boss trainee further below in the canyon.
Thanks to goTenna Pro X + ATAK, however, the chainsaw teams could see on GPS that the trainee was moving back toward them and away from the spot fires.
The goTenna Pro X + ATAK was able to provide live tracking information on crew member’s positioning as firefighters withdrew up and out of the canyon, regrouping at the cellular service-accessible staging area.