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Into the Fire: Real-Time Resource Tracking for Wildland Firefighting by Will Martin

Lynq PRO enables total team awareness and ensures Dingell Act compliance for real-time resource tracking during wildland firefighting missions.

 

Jon Shiroma is no stranger to wildfires. He watched helplessly as the 2013 Rim Fire transformed 80,000 acres of majestic Yosemite National Park into a barren, gray moonscape. He kept tabs on the fast-moving Carr Fire as it drove tens of thousands of Northern California residents from their homes. And in November 2018 he received incoming reports in disbelief as the Camp Fire engulfed the historic town of Paradise, California, seemingly overnight. 

“The (California) wildfires at first were just as summer type of thing, but it evolved with the ongoing drought,” said Shiroma, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who for nearly two decades served as a senior leader at the California National Guard headquarters, one of the state’s foremost wildland firefighting agencies. “The fire season became more like a fire year. There was never really an offseason.”

But even the year-round threat of destructive wildfires couldn’t prepare Shiroma for what he would witness as the Hawaii Firestorm rolled through his native Maui in August 2023, claiming at least 98 lives. 

“You go into this thinking this will never happen (in Hawaii),” said Shiroma, who retired to Oahu and picked up work as a traffic reporter at a Honolulu news station. “You’re just seeing these war zone-like images coming in from the area where my family settled when we first moved to Maui. I was just devastated.” And as one with deep professional experience related to wildland firefighting, Shiroma also picked up on challenges faced by agencies responding to the fires. 

“One of the biggest problems that they did identify was communications,” he said. “For the longest time, there was no set landline system in place because it had all burned down. There were several systems that had gone down and they had a really difficult time tracking and communicating between agencies.”

While Maui’s lack of history with wildland fires might have exacerbated its struggles, its experience is not unique to the Hawaiian Islands. When multiple agencies converge on these massive fires, effective communication, coordination, and tracking of resources can prove overwhelming.

In fact, the nation’s elected leaders leaned into addressing this concern in 2019 with passage of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. The legislation requires that wildland firefighting agencies utilize technology to track the location of resources in real-time throughout their mission. The hope is that by mapping the deployment of personnel and resources, agencies can better integrate their efforts, cut costs, and most importantly, save lives.

“But to pull it off, you need the right tools,” said Mike Griffith, a Sales Manager for OTTO Engineering, Inc., a manufacturer of cutting-edge emergency response and tactical communication equipment. “Often, agencies bring a myriad of tracking or communications systems to the fight, each with its own unique platform or network requirements, making it difficult to share positional intelligence.”

“What’s needed is a unifying technology that empowers real-time navigation, timing, positional data sharing—even secure messaging—between agencies and personnel,” Griffith added. “Lynq PRO checks all those boxes.”

Empowered by a long-range, low-power network that operates independently or in concert with traditional infrastructure, OTTO’s Lynq PRO is keenly suited for deployment to interagency wildland firefighting missions. Its ad-hoc networks allow for sharing of critical, real-time positioning data across several miles without the need for cell towers or proprietary network subscriptions. 

“Both command elements and firefighters are able to continuously track personnel and the movement of resources,” said Griffith. “Lynq PRO also allows boots on the ground to message one another with checkpoints, safe routes, and updates on missing personnel or civilians. I can’t overstate how impactful it is for situational awareness and decision-making—both on the fire line and for incident commanders.” 

Wildland firefighting planners can deploy Lynq PRO into the hands of multi-agency personnel quickly and easily. Lynq PRO Rapid Programming Kits each house 12 highly portable devices, which can be attached easily to firefighters headed to the fire lines. If the mission calls for it, each kit can be paired with another kit for a total of 24 devices. And when coupled with a TAK-capable device, Lynq PRO’s capacity for advanced mapping and positioning is unparalleled.

“These are built to be sent into the field and in quick fashion,” said Griffith. “They’re durable, waterproof, and connect to form their own secure networks, no matter what Mother Nature sends your way. Clear, timely communication and positioning are essential to saving lives in wildland firefighting. Lynq PRO makes that happen.”

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