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State Fire Officials Adding New Safety Tools for Wildland Firefighters

Arizona fire officials are adding new tools and technology to help protect wildland firefighters across the state.

Over the past month, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management added accountability and response systems to six of the 13 woodland fire hand crews.

The six crews have started testing safety devices called DropBlocks, which adds GPS tracking and locating systems while in use.

In a press release, DFFM said that these tracking and communication systems will not rely on cell tower signals, but Iridium Satellites.

“These 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,” said Juliann Ashcraft, wife of Andrew Ashcraft, fallen Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot.

The DropBlocks will allow real-time tracking with data transmissions that are shared with the acing or those with the incident command.

Ashcraft continued, “By implementing this new technology, tragedies similar to Yarnell Hill will not have to be repeated in the future. 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. This technology fulfills one of the large advances we’ve been fighting for. Let’s continue the mission of improving Wildland Firefighter safety and situational awareness so that one more firefighter makes it home to their families safely. A big thank you to the state of Arizona for taking this important first step.”

DFFM fire officials have been exploring ways to increase safety since the tragedy on Yarnell Hill, and this is the first technology that appears to show success.

If the crew testing is successful, DFFM will add more DropBlocks to other hand crews, and engines as well.