Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Calling All Cars! Calling All Cars!! Where is Everybody???

If you're either over the age of 50 or an aficionado of old, black-and-white crime series and movies, you'll probably recognize the title of this blog entry. In these well-aged television programs and movies, one would hear someone on the police radio reaching out to any vehicles on the department's frequency. While it might sound somewhat comical today, its reality is all too real for the fire service and everyone involved in public safety. Here we are, well on our way into the 21st century  where we can send and receive radio signals from our satellites, billions of miles away and we still need to deal with inferior radio communications for first responders.

In his "Fire Politics" column in the June issue of FIREHOUSE(R), Kevin O'Connor (who serves as the Assistant to the General President of the IAFF) explains that the actual "creation" of the FirstNet program, is not much of a program after all. If you're a relatively young and new firefighter, you may not know that as far back as 1982, leaders of the fire and police services have been requesting, simply put, a radio band allotment, dedicated to voice and data communications for first responders. You might be thinking,"Radio band? Every one of us has a radio with our frequencies!" However, FirstNet goes further by providing interoperability between departments and agencies. Imagine, after a major incident in your response area that required numerous mutual-aid agencies, you have the ability to turn to a frequency that enables you to hear commands and other information directly from the incident commander.

Think of it this way, on 9|11, the FDNY could barely communicate with the NYPD. This led to another call to the government to build, "a national, interoperable communications network exclusively for public safety"* In 1992, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, Miami-Dade County Fire-Rescue and Police units were barely able to communicate with like agencies responding from Broward, Palm Beach, and other agencies, to assist. FirstNet could have precluded those difficulties.

Mr. O'Connor goes on to explain that while the government provided certain bandwidth for the project, it is for data only, no voice. Moreover, the program will be managed, not by leaders in the fields of Public Safety, but by former "bigwigs" in the telecom industry and non-public safety executives; leaving a very small representation (sic "voice) from Public Safety officials who truly know and understand what is needed. And to add insult to injury, the bandwidth is not exclusive to Public Safety; rather it is "shared" and can be used by commercial users.

Pretty disappointing, right? Now ask the most important question, WHY? Why did this effort to provide public safety a strong radio spectrum to use on major disasters, fail? It appears that many of us were the cause. "What? Us? What did we do? I didn't do anything! I didn't do anything! Oh...I see...I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" Too many of us did not do anything to lend our support to the effort. 

As current and former firefighters, LEO's, EMT's and Paramedics, we can no longer afford to leave issues as important as FirstNet, on the shoulders of just a few of our great leaders. We must begin to play a role in guiding public safety to its very best and most professional level that we can. Additionally, all of us, whether career, volunteer, on-call, etc., can participate.

How? Visit this link to the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Keep abreast of what the government is doing for or to us. Be sure to read Mr. O'Connor's  "Fire Politics" column in the June issue of FIREHOUSE(R) Magazine. If you're a career firefighter and IAFF member, be sure to read and discuss the news and issues at the local, state and federal levels that effect the fire service. If you're a volunteer, you're able to interact with the Congressional Caucus mentioned above. And all of us can contact our congressional representatives and request their assistance in improving public safety for all. 

Remember - if we are unable to protect ourselves, how are we expected to protect those we are sworn to serve?

*Kevin O'Connor, "Fire Politics," FIREHOUSE Magazine, June 2017, p.18.

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