EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — Fighting fires, like any combat, requires skill and communication. New technology deployed by the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting seeks to give firefighters the upper hand in that fight.
"It is really just about improving current operations," said Brad Schmidt, the wildland center project manager for the group. "Now, for the first time, we are deploying it across a fire."
The technology is called the Team Awareness Kit, or TAK for short. Its purpose is to track multiple elements of a firefight in real time, including the location of crew members, the distribution of equipment, and, most importantly, the spread of the fire.
"We are able to see exactly where the fire is burning, see where the firefighters are, and get intelligence in real time on the behavior and activity of the fire," Schmidt said. "By seeing the locations of your fellow crew members in real-time you are able to coordinate more effectively with them."
The Grizzly Creek Fire operations are the first time the technology is being used on a large scale, according to officials.
By coordinating the location and data points on what Schmidt calls the "Google Maps for a wildland firefighter," teams are able to more effectively distribute equipment, better predict the spread of the flames, and keep their teammates safer.
"If someone gets into a bad situation, we know we have a better chance of being able to help guide them back to safety," said Schmidt.
The technology was developed by the Department of Defense to map combat operations and troop positions, but in 2018, the federal government granted the technology to local law enforcement and emergency teams.
"We have confidence that we are not the first ones trying this out. We are piggybacking on their successes with this technology," Schmidt said.
Fire crews have adapted the technology to wildland helicopters, allowing the topographical map to register, and superimpose infrared footage from the air.
"There is an enormous amount of math and science that goes into being able to put video onto the surface of the earth," said Schmidt. "Our state multi-mission aircraft is able to fly this area during the middle of the day and collect a new perimeter showing the size of the fire. And we are able to map that out."
Fire teams will report the data back to the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting as the Grizzly Creek Fire continues to burn. The group hopes to deploy more technology like the Team Awareness Kit in the future.