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Grass Valley Fire department new command vehicle, better comms

Interim Battalion Chief Steve Smith shows off the "command box" in the back of the Grass Valley Fire Department's new F-250 command vehicle. Dave Brooksher.

The Grass Valley Fire Department has a new command vehicle, loaded with telecommunications gear to help maintain open lines of communication during an incident. It may sound simple, but the biggest feature on this vehicle is that it’s been outfitted with two separate two-way radios, allowing the incident commander or battalion chief to monitor two frequencies at once.

Interim Fire Chief Mark Buttron says that’s a huge improvement.

“We can now listen to both of those without having to flip back and forth,” Buttron said. “The last thing we want to do is miss something. We need to have our command and control system very tuned-in for those situations, and switching back and forth on a radio is problematic.”



“This improves our ability to coordinate the incident, account for our firefighters, and improve firefighter safety — all because we have better communication,” Buttron said.

This can be especially useful when a firefighter is injured, which creates an “incident within an incident.” That means the rest of the personnel on scene switch to another channel so they can continue fighting the fire in a coordinated fashion while also staging a rescue effort for the injured firefighter if necessary.




Having a second radio in the command vehicle allows the chief to monitor both frequencies simultaneously.

There’s also a modem which turns the vehicle into its own wi-fi hotspot. That ensures reliable Internet access for the truck’s onboard laptop.

“That helps support a function in our mapping program that auto-populates incidents from dispatch into what is essentially a beefed up GPS system,” Buttron said. “We can locate your GPS coordinates just by simply moving a cursor over where you’re at on the map and call in resources to that location, like an air ambulance.”

But not all of the bells and whistles on this command truck are tech-oriented. There is a set of dry-erase boards to help the incident commander plan out strategic or tactical objectives. They used to do that on a piece of paper.

“While that worked for our predecessors, and they had success with it, this is better,” Buttron said.

There’s also a new set of code-3 lights and sirens to help the vehicle arrive safely on scene, even in a hurry.

“It’s got improved ground clearance, improved power, and it allows us to get in and out of challenging terrain without causing damage as we would in some of the vehicles that have a lower profile,” Buttron said.

Grass Valley Fire bought the new command truck and all of its add-ons for a total of $54,957, which came in more than $20,000 below projected costs. The vehicle it’s replacing was purchased surplus and currently has roughly 160,000 miles on it, raising questions about its reliability in a life-or-death wildfire incident.

Buttron thanked the local taxpayers for making the upgrades possible.

“This whole thing was paid for by the generosity of the public in passing Measure N,” he said. “That bought us this vehicle, and all of its technology and capability.”

To contact staff writer Dave Brooksher, send emails to dbrooksher@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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