Comms upgrades for NSW and Qld firefighters

Wednesday, 23 August, 2023

Comms upgrades for NSW and Qld firefighters

Firefighters in eastern Australia will benefit from two new initiatives that are set to enhance their ability to communicate.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) has begun rolling out new helmets fitted with hands-free communications to improve frontline communication and safety. The Rosenbauer HEROS-titan AS structural firefighting helmet is being delivered to all Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) firefighters and senior officers across the state as part of a staged process, and is being paired with an audio device that allows hands-free communication and includes a noise-cancelling capability — even while the user is wearing a breathing apparatus.

A total of $6.2 million has been allocated to the rollout of the ‘jet’ style helmets, which includes training officers based around the state. In a trial conducted last year, the majority of participating firefighters indicating the helmets improved their communication capability and supported its introduction. The helmet is also used by fire and rescue services in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

Queensland Minister for Fire and Emergency Services Mark Ryan said the new helmets will improve firefighter safety and communication in noisy environments. He noted, “Firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect their communities and it’s so important we provide them with the best equipment to do their job. In emergency situations every second counts, and any new technology we can provide to improve the way firefighters go about their critical work has huge benefits.”

QFES Commissioner Greg Leach added that FRS firefighters have started using the helmets while on shift and the early feedback has been positive. He said, “There are 42 dedicated training officers based around Queensland who are in place to ensure every firefighter is comfortable with the new technology. Our crews are trained to communicate in a variety of ways in the event of radio systems being unavailable and the introduction of the new helmets will have significant impacts on their day-to-day role.”

Meanwhile, over the border, mobile Wi-Fi equipment has been installed in over 1300 Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW State Emergency Service (SES) vehicles to provide 4G or satellite communication access during incident responses. The technology will enable firefighters and SES members to continue using radios, mobile phones and other handheld devices anywhere and at any time, even when driving through communications black spots.

The ‘vehicle as a node’ systems will allow crews to connect to satellites when there is no land-based 4G or radio connectivity, meaning they will be able to stay in contact even if the communications infrastructure is damaged in a disaster. The technology, which is now standardised for any new vehicle acquired by Fire and Rescue NSW and NSW SES across the state, will thus enhance connectivity and voice clarity, leading to greater interoperability with other emergency services and improved situational awareness.

NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York said the technology will be a great boost in regional areas where coverage is limited. She explained, “When the mobile broadband connection or public safety network has an outage, our vehicles can now switch to satellite connectivity with ease to keep members in the field in communication with each other and with the State Operations Centre.”

Now that the systems have been installed, work will commence on enabling Fire and Rescue NSW vehicles to be used as ‘mobile Wi-Fi hubs’, allowing for mobile phone and live video streaming connectivity for first responders. Video streaming allows emergency services to share live footage from the incident, heightening situational awareness for ground crews.

“This is the first big step in bringing the hubs’ various functions online,” said Fire and Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner – Strategic Capability Megan Stiffler.

“The hub basically turns each fire truck into a modern communications node and also introduces the latest AVL [automatic vehicle locator] technology that allows Fire and Rescue NSW to deploy the closest firetruck to an emergency.”

Richard Gibb, Operation Communications Systems Officer at Fire and Rescue NSW, will be speaking at Comms Connect Melbourne on 18 October on the topic “The Connected Firefighter — Critical communications capability for the 21st-century firefighter”.

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