New crew locating system to be tested this fire season in Arizona

May 17, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 12:52 pm

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)...

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)

(Arizona Department of Forestry Photo)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management will test a new satellite-based crew locating and communication device this fire season.

The system, DropBlocks, will provide for increased crew accountability and safety during incidents where there may be little to no cell phone or radio service.

DropBlocks will be carried and tested by six of DFFM’s 12 wildland fire hand crews. The agency is one of few wildland firefighting agencies in the country with this type of firefighter accountability system. The devices are products of RoGo, a Colorado-based company that develops state-of-the-art, satellite-based firefighter reporting systems.

The department has been exploring for years ways to increase crew safety and enhance communication between firefighters and overhead.

Juliann Ashcraft, the wife of fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft, said the devices will provide Wildland Firefighters with a more collaborative and communicated tactical effort.

“Such advances will lead to extinguishing wildfires more efficiently and effectively, and help reduce tragic line of duty deaths, like
my husband’s,” Ashcroft said.

Chief Darrell Willis, DFFM’s crew supervisor, said the tool will be most important and they hope the locating units will help prevent any more wildland fire tragedies.

“The application of these devices has been in the works for quite some time now and has really been a long time coming,” Willis said.

The system will not use standard radio or cell services and will be provided by Iridium Satellite.  DropBlocks will coordinate up-to-the-minute GPS location data and provide real-time data transmissions to agency or incident overhead. According to the agency, the system will be able to more precisely track crew movement and locations in wildland fire incidents.

“By implementing this new technology, tragedies similar to Yarnell Hill will not have to be repeated in the future,” Ashcroft said. “It is imperative to us that lessons be learned from the tragic loss of the GMIHC, and that the deaths of my husband and friends drive profound and lasting change in how we approach wildland firefighting.”

If testing is successful, DFFM plans to distribute the device to all the agency’s wildland firehand crews and engine crews.

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New crew locating system to be tested this fire season in Arizona