Volunteer fire departments are an integral part of the communities they serve, carrying on a proud tradition of neighbor helping neighbor in times of trouble. Each member is committed to maintaining readiness to respond to every call, but those working in rural communities like Cartersville, Va., must often act on incomplete information due to spotty cell coverage.
“When a house catches fire, it doesn’t take long for it to get out of control,” said Chief Gene Shores. “Time means a whole lot when we have to drive six to 10 miles to the location. We need to get a call that we can hear, determine the location and be able to get there in time to protect lives and property.”
Broadband service installed through a partnership between Firefly Fiber Broadband and USDA Rural Development is allowing the department to check all those boxes and more efficiently serve a growing population. Today, firefighters can quickly access critical incident details, so EMS and the fire department know what to expect on each response.
“Our phones are set up on a Computer Aided Dispatch or CAD system that goes off with our pagers or radios and gives us all the required information,” said Shores. “Broadband access helps us get there quicker by providing a pinpoint rather than a general point of reference like ‘near Tom Jones’ to locate the house. It’s also easier to call in backup from other fire departments and direct them to our location.”
The county’s “rip and run” system sends dispatch/alarm information to a station printer to coordinate and track responses and the broader reach of broadband enables fire and EMS crews to quickly relay requests for ambulances or med flight transport. Shores says all department vehicles should have new radios in the next year and coordination is now underway to share towers with Powhatan County to boost the signals even further.
“That will help tremendously because you don’t always have time to get your phone out when the radios aren’t working to call dispatch,” Shores added.
The small department is also using the fiber connections funded through USDA Rural Development’s ReConnect Program to make the most of available resources to enhance readiness. Firefighters who hold down regular jobs can now view videos to learn techniques that would have required an instructor in the past.
“I believe that broadband can save lives because you get there quicker and can position more equipment that will be needed,” said Shores. “In this area, we travel a long way to get to the nearest hospital, so it’s really urgent to keep our response time short. I’m glad we got the service out here.”
View our "ReConnect Effect" video spotlight to get the story directly from Chief Shores.