Leon Valley Fire Chief: For us, FirstNet has worked the first time, every time.

by Michael Naughton, Fire Chief, City of Leon Valley.

When new technology comes out, people promise a lot of things. For example, they’ll say your new radios will solve all your problems. Or this new technology is going to take care of everything.

Nationwide, one of the biggest concerns is interoperability. Even in an area that has a regional radio system, we're not all on the same radios. So communication is always going to be an issue.

In Leon Valley, our fire department of about 30 career members is responsible for all hazard response in the city and surrounding area. That’s fire, EMS – anything you call for. We need to be able to talk to our own personnel, as well as personnel from other cities.

Before we transitioned to FirstNet, we used a different vendor. We had lots of dead spots. We had poor equipment. It flat wasn’t reliable.

FirstNet gives us the coverage we need, everywhere we go. Until we started using FirstNet, I wasn’t sure we would have the communications capabilities we needed. But for us, it’s worked the first time, every time. 


Safety and Security 

Almost everything we have relies on a computer somehow. And almost every piece of equipment requires internet service or network capabilities. So it’s critical that we be able to connect.

On our ambulances, our modems connect to our patient data computers, which records all the relevant information from EMS calls and our cardiac monitors. If we have somebody with a cardiac issue, we can connect to the hospital, transmit a 12-lead EKG. And if they're really sick, we can lock down a Cath Lab or the necessary people so they're waiting for us when we get there.

That communication is so important that it has to work the first time we dial or the first time the computer sends out a request.

This is important for the safety of our firefighters as well.

Our firefighters wear air packs – which we use to breathe when we're not in a good atmosphere. Through our computers – whether from a vehicle or incident command – we can see every single air pack that's on the scene, by name. We can see how much air they have. If something unsafe happens, we can transmit a signal to tell them to get out of the fire.

We rely on that network to make that happen. It’s important for an incident commander to be able to monitor his troops who are in a hazardous condition and be able to see if a firefighter stops moving. 


Communication is key

Several years ago, we responded to a large fire of a 10-story building in a small jurisdiction. The initial response was 4 people from that jurisdiction, 4 people from ours, and 2 people from somewhere else.

By the time it was over, there were 200 firefighters operating on different radios. This posed a tremendous communications issue. And eventually we had to share radios to be able to talk to each other.

If we can't talk, it’s hard for us to let dispatchers or other personnel know what our needs are, what's currently happening. And if we have a slow-down in those communications, that stops us from bringing in the appropriate assets. It delays our response.

Every minute delay in communication can mean another life or property loss, whether that's a big fire or a stranded vehicle in a flood. One minute can be the difference between getting that person out of that vehicle or that vehicle washing down a creek. 


Lifesaving help 

In the end, FirstNet is going to help us save lives. It’s going to help save the lives of firefighters. It's going to help them manage that incident better and use their resources better, which in the end is going to help save the lives of the people involved or it's going to save property.

All key personnel in the city required to respond to the Emergency Operations Center to manage disasters or emergencies have a phone on FirstNet. This way they’ll have reliable communications with their departments, with outside resources, incoming resources. We rely on it.

If communications is an issue for you – and it’s something that you need in your daily business and you want to be able to connect – I would absolutely recommend FirstNet. 

Michael Naughton is Fire Chief for the City of Leon Valley, Texas. He has extensive experience managing municipal EMS systems and regulatory compliance. He served as Fire Chief for the City of Shavano Park Fire Department for almost 9 years and as Assistant Fire Chief for 7. He also served with the cities of Schertz, Alamo Heights and Balcones Heights. Chief Naughton also worked as Director of Emergency Medical Services for Bandera County, Texas. He is a noted expert in Emergency Medical Services and has served as a Training Instructor in the San Antonio region for many years. While with the Shavano Fire Department, he led efforts to be recognized by the Texas Fire Chiefs Association with the Best Practices Department Award.