Fighting fire with fiber W
hen you’re a firefighter, minutes matter. If there’s an emergency, you can’t afford to wait on a slow network to access storm shelter maps, protocols for hazardous materials or other information. That’s why two of Huntsville’s fire stations count on fiber optic lines from Ardmore Telephone. “Fiber is more reliable, especially the type of fiber that Ardmore put in,” says Huntsville Fire Department data manager Walter McGehee. “We don’t have near the problems with fiber that we have with other lines.” Reliability is important, because the department is moving more and more of its work online. McGehee and others are testing ways to send and receive things like storm shelter registration data, fire hydrant testing records, investigation reports and pre-fire plans online. Already, firefighters file reports on computers at the station, but new software will allow them to also access information remotely. “We haven’t done paper reports in years,” McGehee says. Ardmore Telephone CEO Trevor Bonnstetter says most people are surprised to find that a small company like Ardmore Telephone is providing top-notch technology to a big-city fire department. But this is characteristic, he says, of the company’s focus on community development. “We are always looking for opportunities to use our technology to support organizations like the Huntsville Fire Department,” says Bonnstetter. “This network we are building is having a very real impact on the communities we serve.”
Saving tax dollars
In addition to being able to access data quickly and reliably, the department’s high-speed network — including the connections from Ardmore Telephone — saves money. “We’re looking at it in fuel savings,” McGehee says. Every morning, assistant chiefs and other officers gather online for a video conference. “We use that everyday,” McGehee says. “They just have what they call a virtual meeting. They stay at their stations and we just send them a link.” Video conferencing also allows firefighters to attend conferences without having to leave the station. And when you calculate that fire trucks get about four miles per gallon of diesel fuel, which costs $4 per gallon, there are real savings in staying home. If video conferences save two trips from one station to another each month, with stations 15 to 20 miles apart, the savings add 8 | May/June 2013
Capt. Wylie Johnson with (left to right) Ryan Jones, Shannon Drake and Clay Heater.
Capt. Wylie Johnson and Station 16 rely on Ardmore Telephone’s fiber optic lines. up. “If you can keep that truck from coming, that’s $80 a month you save,” McGehee says. “It more than paid for the video conferencing system.” And if you cut out bigger trips, like in February when firefighters video-conferenced into a training session in Tuscaloosa rather than driving, the department saves even more. “That worked extremely well,” McGehee says. “We’re looking to expand that program.” Bonnstetter says he’s glad to see the company’s broadband technology is being put to good use. “The fiber line is only a connection,” he says. “What’s exciting is to see the ways that groups like the Huntsville Fire Department are using our connection to make North Alabama a better, safer place to live.” Ardmore Telephone Company