Operability is the key for Fresno County Sheriff

Posted on December 10, 2018

by Margaret Mims, Fresno County Sheriff

“When I first heard about FirstNet, I thought, ‘here’s our opportunity to fix that problem.’” – Margaret Mims, Fresno County Sheriff

Fresno County has urban areas, a valley floor and high, rugged mountains. We have sworn personnel, a mounted posse, four-wheel drive, air squadron, mountaineer and canine volunteers.

We need to be able to communicate with them when they’re in remote locations. They need to be able to talk to each other. And we need to be able to communicate with other agencies involved. So, operability is critical when it comes to our search and rescue calls.

That’s been a common theme in my nearly four decades in law enforcement when it comes to the after-action reports of major incidents. Almost every time, communication among agencies has been an issue.

When I heard about FirstNet, I thought, “Here's our opportunity to fix that problem.” Once it’s completely built out, there should be no reason public safety can’t communicate among different agencies.  

In 2015, we had a very large wildland fire. While firefighters battled this fire, we received a call about a lost hiker in a remote, mountainous part of Fresno County. Normally, we would use helicopters to get our team into the area and find the hiker. But there was too much smoke in the air for the helicopters to fly. So, our search and rescue team hiked three days just to get to the area where they would begin the search.

We searched for nine days, along with teams from other counties. Because of the fire, we couldn’t get supplies to our team. They had to fend for themselves and live off the land. We found the missing hiker alive but injured. She had fallen. A helicopter had to find a path through the smoke to airlift her out. But we saved her life.

For this search, we used a Satellite COLT to enhance our communications. So, it puts my mind at ease to know that FirstNet will have 72 deployables dedicated solely to FirstNet subscribers.

The deployables will help us enhance communications in remote areas where there’s little or no connectivity. They will help us with mobility in situations that can change quickly. For instance, if we have a command post that is close to a fire and we need to move, that portability is very important.

That’s where our search and rescue team needs stable communication the most. So, it’s encouraging to know FirstNet and its deployable technology is now available to us. This will enhance communication and make the vast area of Fresno County appear a little smaller for first responders doing their jobs.

Fresno was the first California county to adopt FirstNet. I wasn’t thinking about that when I made the decision. To me, it was clear that adopting the best communication technology for my personnel was the right thing to do. My entire career has been about keeping people safe. Anytime we have a tool that can help me keep people safe, I’m going to be all in.

Margaret Mims is in her fourth term as Fresno County Sheriff. She was the first female deputy sheriff Sergeant to supervise field patrol units; the first female deputy sheriff to attain the rank of Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Sheriff, and the first female elected to the office of Sheriff in the history of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, established in 1856.