By James Careless
Although some first responders are still getting their heads around FirstNet, others have been using this wireless broadband platform for years and can’t imagine life without it.
One of these ‘FirstNet veterans’ is Chief Guy M. Bonin. He is Fire Chief with Iberia Parish Fire District #1 (IPFD#1), Louisiana. It is headquartered in New Iberia (2021 population: 27,989), 212 miles southeast of Lafayette. Chief Bonin’s fire department has approximately 28 career employees and about 30 volunteers.
Before moving to FirstNet three years ago, IPFD#1 relied on land mobile radios and personal cell phones for its communications systems. These links often became unreliable during bad weather, incidents in remote areas, or both. This is why the Chief thought migrating onto FirstNet would be a good idea. “I’d read up a little bit about it, and the sheer idea that we could all be on one network that was modern and growing seemed like a good thing to do,” he said.
His staff felt the same way: “They jumped on board with us as soon as we got the chance to use FirstNet,” Chief Bonin said. “Most of our firefighters are using their own private phones — mainly iPhones with some Samsung Androids but we do have some department-owned smartphones that my admins use, such as my assistant chief, my training chief, and my mechanic, who is also a firefighter with us.” This move was made easy by AT&T’s FirstNet support staff, who came to IPFD#1 to set up the service.
It didn’t take long for FirstNet’‘s superior coverage and reliability to make its presence felt here. “Soon after we moved to FirstNet, we got hit by a hurricane,” said Chief Bonin. “Unlike what used to happen when we relied on land mobile radio and consumer-grade cellular service, I was still able to get through to my people, whether they were in the station or in another section of our parish. We didn’t lose touch when staying in touch mattered most.”
Meanwhile, when bad weather knocked down a cell tower south of Iberia Parish, Chief Bonin drove down there to see what was happening. “Everyone there had no communications at all,” he recalled. “But then FirstNet sent in a crew to restore service, which is the kind of thing I like to see. Meanwhile, in those instances when my department needs help, I know I can call my FirstNet rep and get assistance fast. And when we have a storm come through, they’re usually the first ones to call to make sure that we don’t need any assets from them because they can send them from the staging areas to us very quickly.”
Three years on, Chief Guy Bonin remains happy with IPFD#1’s decision to adopt FirstNet for its primary communications platform. “I’m just thoroughly impressed with the FirstNet group and how well they work through government, because working through government is not easy, as I know from firsthand experience,” he said. “They make sure that first responders and the public are taken care of, which makes us feel like, ‘okay, we do have somebody watching our backs’.”