Three local public safety agencies featured in YouTube promotional campaign
Vail Police Department, Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and Gypsum Fire Department detail experiences with FirstNet broadband platform
For more than five years now, the Vail Police Department, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Gypsum Fire Department have worked with a national company called FirstNet to evaluate its high-speed broadband emergency communications platform.
Now other agencies can view their testimonials regarding the service and associated equipment in a series of YouTube videos produced by the company to promote its product. The videos were filmed in February and went live on YouTube in late March.
In the segments, Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger, Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Kromer and Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland share their experiences with using FirstNet, Built with AT&T — a public-private partnership with the First Responder Network Authority .
FirstNet offers dedicated internet access — for department-issued smartphones, vehicle-based computers, routers, and frontline apparatuses — for public safety agencies to ensure bandwidth during emergency situations.
“The whole idea being is you can’t have public safety competing for existing broadband for cell phones to communicate data that is mission critical,” Henninger said. FirstNet provides priority and preemptive access for emergency services — a goal that was first identified by the 9/11 Commission in response to the communication challenges public safety workers experienced during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Henninger said the local agencies began subscribing to the FirstNet service back in 2015, during the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. During that event, there was a whole lot of people in the valley and that meant a whole lot of cell phone traffic. On top of the public demand, there was also higher than normal public safety communications traffic.
“That was the perfect opportunity to test this new product,” Henninger said. The championships underscored the need for the service that FirstNet provides, he added.
“We know how important this is and how important it was for us to jump on this technology,” Henninger said.
“This is a federally run and controlled program. AT&T is the carrier that is fulfilling the service,” Kromer said. He noted that back in 2015, a desire to see how the system would function in mountain terrain prompted the agencies to team with FirstNet. In his video, Kromer states the network’s reliability, connectivity and security were key elements that netted the sheriff’s office’s attention.
“Even though we are in a rural area, we have all the same services and technologies that any agency is going to use. We need to know that those lines of communication are going to be open and secure,” Kromer says in the YouTube video.
In his testimonial, Kirkland offered a real life example — communications challenges associated with the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020. That emergency featured national, state and local emergency responders and their associated communications needs at a time when residents of Eagle and Garfield counties, along with Interstate 70 travelers, were generating high demand for local bandwidth.
FirstNet’s single point of service and dedicated Band 14 spectrum kept communications open for the Gypsum fire department during the Grizzly Creek Fire, Kirkland noted.
“We are a classic rural fire department,” Kirkland says in his YouTube video.“We cover 455 square miles and although we are the largest land fire department district, we have the smallest budget. We have to find efficiencies and systems that work without a lot of user intervention. With FirstNet, we are able to have a single point of service that covers all of our needs.”
Those needs are only going to grow in the future and that’s the focus of D Block — a national public safety broadband network. While there is one D Block tower in the area, located in Edwards, the technology is not yet widely available locally.
“We are working hard to bring that capability here,” Henninger said. In that spirit, next week, he will be part of the national D Block conversation.
On April 26, Ed Parkinson, CEO of the First Responder Network Authority, will lead a conversation with Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), the ranking member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to discuss the FirstNet system. Henninger is one of five panelists slated to speak during the session. He will likely reiterate some of the assertions he made in his YouTube video.
“We knew that with our limited fire, police and paramedic staff, we needed to be very well organized,” Henninger says in his video. “The biggest benefit for the entire county is our ability to communicate with other agencies and each other in a world-class environment. If FirstNet can work in our little mountain community, it can work anywhere.”