Fla. Forest Service using new high-tech firefighting tool - WFLA News Channel 8

Fla. Forest Service using new high-tech firefighting tool

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Patrick Keogh, Forest Area Supervisor Patrick Keogh, Forest Area Supervisor
PLANT CITY, FL (WFLA) -

Florida's Forest Service is starting to use a new high-tech firefighting tool and crews believe it's the first of its kind in the nation.

"This is our first attempt at it. I think other departments can learn from it, use it," said Patrick Keogh, the Forest Area Supervisor for the Florida Forest Service. "It has increased our safety significantly, in my opinion."

The system, called an "asset tracking system," allows a fire crew supervisor to see where his team members are. The Forest Service has installed transponders on bulldozers and brush engines that send a signal back to a laptop with the exact location.

"We can see where his location is within about a 2-mile radius of our spot," said Keogh as he pointed to a bulldozer on the map.

Bay area districts recently installed the system, and it should be in use across the state within the next weeks. It was developed internally at a cost around $2 million, but there should be no operating costs for it because it requires no internet and no wireless cards. It uses the radio transmissions that crews were utilizing in the first place.

Florida lost two firefighters in 2011 when a wildfire killed two of them in the Panhandle.

Last year, an Arizona wildfire made national headlines when 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew died on in the Yarnell Hill fire. Investigators believe, among other problems, poor radio communication between firefighters and support staff played a role in those deaths.

In the Southeast, firefighters use heavy equipment like bulldozers to battle wildfires. Hand crews are primarily used out west because of rough terrain, Keogh explained.

Firefighters remain in radio contact, but even their large bulldozers are camouflaged in the brush of Florida's forest.

"If he runs into trouble, I can help direct crews to his exact location," Keogh said. "Whether it be a helicopter to give him - to dump water to protect him from a fire if he's stuck in front of it...or even if he breaks down - we know exactly where he's at. Do we know if it will necessarily prevent an injury or fatality? You can't predict that, obviously, but I think it's just another tool in our toolbox to help us keep our guys safe."


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