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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Firefighting Crews Should Have GPS Help

As reported by the Yuma SunWhen firefighters are working on wildfires, one would assume that those crews are equipped with the best, latest technology to keep them safe.


However, the investigation into the deaths of the 19 firefighters near Yarnell in June has shown that isn't always the case.
Investigators have said one way to keep firefighters safe in the future is with GPS tracking technology.
Real-time information on the location of crews and the location of the fire, if those two things had been known, this accident could have been prevented,” said Bill Grabbert, a retired wildland firefighter, fire management officer and author, said in a recent Associated Press article.
Given the prevalence of GPS technology now, especially in smartphones, it’s unfathomable that it isn't being used to keep firefighters safe.
Officials have said that proper procedures were followed in Yarnell. But the report notes that when the hotshot crew died, an air-tanker was circling overhead. The command center thought the crew had decided to stay put, and the air-tanker was confused about their location, the AP reported.
GPS technology isn't perfect. According to GPS.gov, which is the U.S. government’s official website about the Global Positioning System, high quality GPS systems, combined with augmentation systems, can pinpoint real-time positions to within centimeters.
But, there are factors that can impact that accuracy, such as atmospheric conditions and the quality of the receiver.
However, wouldn't that technology be worth every penny? The payoff would be two-fold – better accuracy in firefighting, and, most important, protecting the lives of wildland firefighters.
For the families of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, there isn't anything that can be done to bring back their loved ones. And because of 30 minutes of radio silence prior to their deaths, many questions will be left unanswered.
But from their tragedy, officials can make changes to help protect other wildland crews in the future.
The next step should be equipping wildland firefighting teams with the best technology to keep them as safe as possible.