Volunteer first responders are a crucial part of the public safety community, making up 69% of the firefighters across the country in 2014. In addition to use by full-time public safety personnel in each state and territory, FirstNet will be available for the nation's volunteer firefighters, EMS, and law enforcement officers.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) serves as a national voice for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel, providing resources and advocacy for volunteer first responders across the nation. It supports volunteer fire and EMS organizations through a wide range of services and programs, and it represents the interests of volunteer first responders to Congress and federal agencies. The NVFC assists with recruiting volunteer firefighters through its Make Me a Firefighter program, and it advocates for the physical and mental health of volunteer firefighters through its Share the Load program and cancer awareness activities. In addition, the NVFC gives out the annual NVFC Fire Prevention and Education Award to honor someone who has made a remarkable contribution in the area of fire safety and prevention. You may submit your nomination here.
Chief Reid Vaughan, Fire Chief of Cuba, Alabama, is NVFC’s representative on the FirstNet PSAC, bringing the voice of volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services to the planning and deployment of the FirstNet network. Chief Vaughan looks forward to the FirstNet network as “a tool that levels the playing field and gives our people in rural, southwest Alabama the same capabilities as our metropolitan brothers and sisters.” Providing volunteer fire services, many of which currently operate with inadequate communications systems, with a state of the art, reliable, and interoperable communications system will increase the capabilities of volunteers. In addition to improving the overall response of firefighters, an effective communications system will improve firefighter safety. Chief Vaughan points out that these increased capabilities will help attract and retain volunteer firefighters and alleviate the severe shortage of volunteer firefighters around the country which was highlighted in a recent United States Fire Administration (USFA)/NVFC report.
Connecting responders to reliable broadband communications will provide them access to valuable tools needed to perform their jobs safely and successfully: “FirstNet is going to give us, for the first time, a mission critical proprietary system that’s designed, implemented, built-out, and operated for public safety,” says Chief Vaughan in the video below. This is particularly important as one of the top five leading factors related to firefighter deaths is inadequate communications, reports NVFC in the 2016 Critical Health and Safety Issues in the Volunteer Fire Services. Firefighters need to have reliable communications.
Mobile applications specific to first responders are constantly being developed in the commercial marketplace, and FirstNet will enable both volunteer and career firefighters to take advantage of these new apps. Apps that improve communication during an incident among firefighters and with other local first responders will be essential.
FirstNet understands the importance of volunteer first responders having access to the same life-saving technology on the network as career public safety personnel. FirstNet plans to develop and implement a “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)” policy that will provide access to the FirstNet network and enable volunteer first responders to use the full range of FirstNet applications from their personal devices. One of the goals of the BYOD policy is to ensure that volunteer firefighters’ devices will be fully interoperable with the FirstNet network. FirstNet also plans to encourage the development of specific applications to appeal to volunteer EMS personnel and firefighters. FirstNet looks forward to the types of apps our nation’s volunteer responders create.
Input from groups on the PSAC such as the NVFC helped FirstNet determine early on that identity and access management should be analyzed before rolling out the FirstNet network. With contributions from members like Chief Vaughan, the PSAC sought to explore the concept of identity, credential, and access management (ICAM) and its importance to the network. Through ICAM, first responders are “identity proofed” by their local agencies and issued credentials that verify their identity and provide access to the resources they need. This is especially important for volunteer first responders who will need access to FirstNet.
FirstNet will continue to work with the NVFC to ensure that the needs of volunteer first responders are met by the FirstNet network.