02.06.2018Updated on 02.06.2018Inside Verizon

Bryan Magnuson is connecting and protecting people.

By: Peter Casale

In the remote Montana wilderness, Network Manager Bryan Magnuson makes sure a firefighter’s camp has the service it needs.

Brian Magnuson in front of a fire truck

When Bryan Magnuson isn’t climbing up the side of a mountain in a snowcat to repair a generator on a Verizon cell tower, he’s  trekking into the Montana wilderness with 50 lbs of gear— a shovel, a hundred feet of hose, water tanks — towards the blaze of an approaching wildfire.

As a Senior Manager in Network Assurance, keeping the wireless network running in Montana is his responsibility.

As a volunteer firefighter, keeping the community safe is his duty.

Bryan Magnuson

A Native Minnesotan.

Bryan was born and raised in Minnesota. Before moving to Montana two years ago, he’d been a Lieutenant for the Fire Department in Golden Valley, just west of Minneapolis.

A  die-hard Vikings fan, Bryan was  pretty excited about the Super Bowl this year. “My wife always asks me, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Bryan said. “And I tell her, ‘Oh, nothing. I’ve only been waiting the last 39 years of my life for this day to come.” Unfortunately, his Vikings  lost in the NFC title game to the Philadelphia Eagles. Bryan thought this year's Super Bowl was just going to be another Super Bowl. That is until he saw the Verizon ad thanking first responders. Bryan swelled with pride and emotion as he vividly remembered a time when both his world's collided. 

“I once put in a twelve-hour shift responding to a wildfire here in Montana," Bryan recalled. "The fire was crawling up a ridge, and when I got to the site I realized that I recognized the woods. On the other side of the ridge was on of our network towers. We kept the fire contained. That day I had Verizon’s back. Seeing that Super Bowl Ad reminded me that Verizon has our backs, every single day.”

One of Bryan’s pictures of a wildfire scorching the hills of Montana at night.

One of Bryan’s pictures of a wildfire scorching the hills of Montana at night.

The network was faster.

As a Verizon employee since 2001, and a Verizon customer his whole life, Bryan knew he could always depend on the network whenever he was responding to an emergency.

“I would get dispatches from the fire station forwarded right to my cell phone,” Bryan said. “Our firetrucks had GPS systems built in to them, but I could always get directions much faster right on my phone.”

Big Sky Country. Big responsibility.

When Bryan moved to Montana a few years ago, he took over responsibility for maintaining a network across an area of over 150,000 square miles, spanning across mountain ranges and remote wilderness.

Bryan and his team will often use ATVs, snowmobiles, and snowcats to travel to cell towers that require service or repair. It’s not easy work, but he takes pride in knowing that Verizon service carries across huge ranges of the country where other providers don’t dare venture.

Duty calls.

Along with a new job, Bryan found a new fire department near him in Montana. “I tried to take a break from firefighting at first,” Bryan said. “But I was getting antsy. I just felt I needed to help out my community the best way I knew how.” So he signed up to volunteer.

Coming from a suburban area of Minnesota, where most of the dispatches had him putting out fires inside homes or buildings, Bryan soon learned that a different kind of fire was the big threat to the Big Sky country — wildfires.

One of the fire camp sites Bryan helped get set up with the network.

One of the fire camp sites Bryan helped get set up with the network. 

A dangerous year.

With ongoing drought conditions, 2017 was a particularly dangerous year for wildfires in Montana. A total area of 438,000 acres of forest burned in the years’ blazes, causing two fatalities.

It was a busy year for Bryan and all firefighters across the state. Even as a volunteer, Bryan sometimes clocks 12-hour shifts to help contain a blaze. When the chief at Bryan’s station got a call for help to get cell service up at one of their fire camps, they called on Bryan.

“I told him, ‘I’m the network guy for Montana. I’ll get you whatever you need.’”

Hotspot for a hot spot.

One of the biggest challenges of fighting wildfires is getting to the fire itself. Often times firefighters set up camps off of mountain highways, or old logging roads.

Along with volunteers, the state employs full-time firefighters to work on containing burn areas. Bryan and his local department will work with them, giving them breaks in the evening to get some rest back at camp.

When the chief needed service up at a campsite, Bryan immediately traveled up to the camp with his Jetpack MiFi HotSpot. The signal was strong, and he connected right away.

The chief, who was going to get his mobile command center updated with service from a different provider, said to Bryan, “I can’t afford to have any other carrier in my command trailer. Only Verizon works up here.”

A call home.

Data service is essential to fighting wildfires. From helicopters, to mobile command centers, different response units need to be able to share information with one another in real time.

But it has another purpose in fire camps as well. “A lot of the time, we get requests from firefighters who don’t have service who just want to call their family,” Bryan said.

Bryan worked with the Verizon Critical Response Group to help out a camp fighting one of the biggest fires in the area.

“We deployed a RAT (Repeater Attached to a Trailer), so the signal would be stronger in the camp,” Bryan shared. “Since some of the firefighters didn’t have Verizon phones, we loaned them a dozen phones to use. It makes all the difference, after a twelve or even sixteen hour shift, just to be able to sit down, take your boots off, and FaceTime your loved ones back home, and tell them you’re doing OK.”

To protect and serve.

“What I always tell people is that when you’re responding to a crisis, you can’t shy away,” Bryan said. “You’ve got to go in headfirst. I don’t shy away, and that’s why I love working for this company as well. We’re always going towards a crisis. We’re always there to help.

“Whether I’m in my fire suit, or I’m wearing my Verizon cap and polo, it feels like either way I’m helping to protect and serve my community.

About the author(s): 

Peter Casale is a member of the Verizon Corporate Communications team. He's the resident writer, producer and creative who likes to tell stories — just ask his parents, he's been doing it his whole life.