Wireless Communications Critical To Firefighters Battling Wildfires

BASKING RIDGE, NJ — With wildfires scorching thousands of acres across the USA over the past month, firefighters and other emergency responders are increasingly turning to wireless phones to communicate. Wireless technologies allow first responders to communicate over longer distances than many two-way radios and help coordinate the efforts of firefighters in remote areas. Verizon Wireless, the leading U.S. wireless company with the nation's most reliable voice and data network, is often called upon by local and state officials to provide this vital communications link to first responders.

In the most recent rash of fires in Georgia, Minnesota, California and Arizona, the company dispatched at the request of local authorities advanced mobile communications equipment, including Cells on Wheels (COWs), Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) and other support, including donations of working wireless phones, to either enhance coverage or establish a wireless network where one had not previously been operating to enable firefighters and other emergency workers to communicate in remote areas where many wildfires originate. COWs and COLTs can handle thousands of wireless calls per hour when linked directly or indirectly to emergency telephone cables and sometimes creating a wireless network that can span miles of burning acreage.

Most recently, Verizon Wireless:

  • Activated a mobile cell site to boost wireless coverage for crews battling the Promontory Fire in Arizona. At the request of Gila County Emergency Operations, the company sent Sundancer the Cell on Light Truck (COLT) to a staging area near the Christopher Creek area to enable emergency response teams and other Verizon Wireless customers to make more calls.

  • Deployed a Cell on Wheels mobile cell site (COW) in Georgia to establish wireless voice coverage and capacity for firefighters and other emergency responders battling extreme drought and forest fire conditions in a remote area around Jesup, Georgia, near the Florida state line. Verizon Wireless was called upon to provide the "primary means" of communication for emergency workers in the area.

  • Dispatched two Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) in Minnesota and provided forty cellphones to help first responders who battled the Ham Lake fire in the Boundary Waters area near the Canadian border. The COLTs provided critical wireless coverage to the Incident Command Post and Base Camp as well as parts of the Gunflint Trail lodge area, which served as a staging area for emergency workers. Both COLTs operated on generator power.

  • Supplied the Red Cross in California with 50 handsets, which were deployed at their Long Beach disaster center for use by evacuees of the Catalina Island fire. The company also supplied firefighters with 20 phones for use while battling the Catalina Island fire.

  • Loaned about two dozen phones to the U.S. Forestry Service in South Florida to assist with communications as crews fought a number of wildfires. The phones were used by firefighters battling wildfires in the Big Cypress National Preserve, a 720,000-acre national park located in the Everglades south of Alligator Alley, about 45 miles from Miami. In addition, Verizon Wireless' network teams added antennas and adjusted the coverage footprint of two nearby cell sites to better serve the Big Cypress crews and the USFS base camps located at Monroe Station and Monument Lake.

"Having the Verizon Wireless COW is amazing," said Monroe Gains, Georgia Forest Commission Incident Commander. "It gives us a reach and a network we can tie into. Being able to come into an area where there is no cell coverage and within a short time, establish that is critical."

Verizon Wireless maintains a fleet of COLTs and COWs for emergency response. Verizon Wireless COWs and COLTs are self-contained mobile cell sites specifically designed for rapid, and short-term response. These mobile cell sites can process thousands of calls an hour, enabling more emergency response teams and other wireless users to make calls concurrently. COWs are fully functional, generator-powered mobile cell sites with single masts that enhance coverage and capacity. COLTs are 25,000-pound vehicles with two retractable masts, a microwave antenna to link network components, an emergency power generator and a small office. The COLT is also fully equipped with resources needed during emergencies including equipment, fuel, electrical generators, food, water and cots.

For more information about Verizon Wireless, visit www.verizonwireless.com.  

*Broadcast-quality video footage of the Verizon Wireless COW in use in Georgia is available in the Verizon Wireless Multimedia Library at www.verizonwireless.com/multimedia.  

High-resolution stills of the Verizon Wireless COW and COLT, including Sundancer the COLT in use in Arizona, are available in the Verizon Wireless Image Library at http://www.verizonwireless.com/news.

About Verizon Wireless Verizon Wireless operates the nation's most reliable wireless voice and data network, serving 60.7 million customers. The largest US wireless company and largest wireless data provider, based on revenues, Verizon Wireless is headquartered in Basking Ridge, N.J., with 66,000 employees nationwide. The company is a joint venture of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ) and Vodafone (NYSE and LSE: VOD). Find more information on the Web at www.verizonwireless.com. To preview and request broadcast-quality video footage and high-resolution stills of Verizon Wireless operations, log on to the Verizon Wireless Multimedia Library at www.verizonwireless.com/multimedia.