LMR, Broadband Support Firefighters in Fight Against Fast Moving Colorado Wildfire
Tuesday, January 18, 2022 | Comments

Firefighters and other emergency responders relied on a variety of communications solutions to fight a fast-moving wildfire that ripped through Boulder County, Colorado, at the end of December.

The Marshall Fire started in the mid-morning of December 30 and grew rapidly due to extreme winds. Fueled by the winds, the fire roared through the towns of Superior and Louisville, destroying more than 1,000 homes and business in less than 24 homes. That destruction made it the most destructive fire in Colorado history before a snowstorm helped firefighters contain it the next day.

As of January 12, the fire had resulted in one confirmed death, and one other person was still listed as missing.

To help combat the fast-moving flames, firefighters and other first responders relied on both LMR and broadband communications to coordinate the firefighting and evacuation efforts.

Because of the large number of organizations on scene, interoperability was critical and achieved through sharing of common talkgroups, designated mutual aid interoperability talkgroups, cache radios and Project 25 (P25) Inter-RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI) connections between the different radio systems, said Colorado Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC) Pamela Monsees.

“System resources were immediately assessed and assigned to the incoming response agencies providing mutual aid,” Monsees said. “Intense monitoring of state system resources was heightened and continued throughout the event to ensure system resources were distributed across the network to lessen concerns for system overload.”

Monsees said that her office was not aware of any interoperability challenges that arose during the fire. One of the ISSI connections did experience some audio challenges but those challenges were addressed quickly and did not impact response. Additionally, local authorities set up an additional VHF repeater in the area to help agencies that were using VHF radios to respond to the fire.

The fire did not cause any LMR outages but did destroy one cellular site, significantly impacting commercial broadband service in the area, Monsees said.

To assist with cellular coverage, FirstNet, built with AT&T provided six satellite cells on light trucks (SatCOLTs), two compact rapid deployables (CRDs) and handheld devices for first responders. The Verizon Response Team (VRT) deployed 11 voice and data solutions to support public-safety agencies responding to the fire.

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