Volunteer first responders are a crucial part of the public safety community, particularly the fire service where nearly 67% of the firefighters across the country—as of 2018—were volunteers. FirstNet, the nation’s only broadband network built specifically for public safety, is available for both career public safety personnel as well as the nation's volunteer firefighters, EMS, and law enforcement officers.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) serves as a national voice for volunteer firefighters, EMS, and rescue personnel, providing resources and advocacy for volunteer first responders across the nation. It supports fire, EMS, and rescue volunteers through a wide range of services and programs, including the Make Me A Firefighter campaign, which assists with recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters; the Serve Strong program, which provides health, wellness, and safety resources; and the Share the Load program, which focuses on the mental health of volunteer firefighters.
Chief Reid Vaughan of the Cuba (Ala.) Fire Department serves as the NVFC’s representative on the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet Authority) Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), bringing the voice of volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services to the deployment and operation of the FirstNet network. “The volunteer fire service protects the vast majority of the United States, and the same services that are provided through FirstNet are available to those volunteer responders.” explains Chief Vaughan.
FirstNet brings enhanced capabilities to volunteers
Funding restrictions and complex contract requirements often prevent volunteer firefighters from experiencing the same communications systems and capabilities as larger fire and EMS departments. FirstNet helps by providing public safety broadband capabilities to all first responders, regardless of their agency size or call volume. FirstNet subscribers benefit from a reliable communications network that supports mobile applications (“apps”) and devices designed specifically for public safety’s unique operational needs.
The FirstNet App Catalog identifies more than 100 apps for responders’ use that have met a higher bar for security and reliability. These apps undergo a rigorous vetting and approval process to ensure they are directly relevant to the needs of first responders, are secure and protect data, and demonstrate a history of limited unplanned outages with three 9’s (99.9% availability). With a wide variety of apps available—ranging from operating procedures to mission activities to resource management—volunteer first responders now have a wealth of capabilities available at their fingertips.
FirstNet also supports a diverse device ecosystem that includes smartphones, tablets, routers, and modems capable of supporting FirstNet network capabilities. These devices are tested and approved for use on the FirstNet network. Recognizing the limited resources available to some public safety agencies, especially volunteer companies, the FirstNet Authority is working to help ensure the growth and diversity of devices for first responders’ use.
The critical role of the NVFC
Early on, input from groups on the PSAC such as the NVFC helped the FirstNet Authority understand the importance of making the network accessible and available to all first responders. With contributions from members like Chief Vaughan, the PSAC explored different approaches that would make the network accessible to all. Thanks to those efforts, today volunteers are able to access the network through subscriber-paid and bring-your-own-device plans. Chief Vaughan explained, “Most volunteer fire and EMS workers provide their own cellular communications devices to assist in the completion of their duties. By allowing subscriber-paid service accounts, the same exact services are available to volunteer members on their personal devices at a lower cost. Being able to offer plans of this nature was critical to the success of the nationwide network.”
The NVFC continues to play a critical role in shaping the future of the network. Chief Vaughan and other PSAC members were heavily involved in the development of the FirstNet Authority Roadmap, a guide to chart the growth and evolution of the nationwide network. Built through hundreds of engagements with public safety stakeholders across the nation, the Roadmap reflects the operational needs of first responders, including volunteers, and sets priorities to address those needs through network investments, activities, and programs. The FirstNet Authority continues to collaborate with PSAC members like the NVFC to advance the Roadmap, ensuring the network is evolving and offering a differentiated FirstNet experience for public safety.
For more information on FirstNet products and services, visit FirstNet.com.