Fire Chief Magazine Home Page

Fireground wireless streaming

Redwood City Fire Department in San Mateo County, Calif., is routinely streaming live video from a battalion chief's vehicle to the Web site.

by Jim Varner
Battalion Chief

How many times have you listened to the radio traffic at an incident and wished you could see what was occurring? Sight is probably the sense on which we rely the most, and trying to conduct emergency operations without the opportunity to personally view the incident scene is often difficult. One of our primary goals has been to provide mission-critical data and imaging to the incident commander at the scene as well as to those remote from it, such as communications centers and the EOC.

It's now possible to stream "live" video to the internet wherever Ricochet high-speed service is available. In association with and, the Redwood City Fire Department in San Mateo County, Calif., is routinely streaming live video from our battalion chief's vehicle to the Web site. We're currently limited to a maximum of 5-10 viewers at any one time, but plans are in the works to increase the capacity to allow more viewers. Though at some point we hope to allow public access to the video, for now we limit viewing to authorized internal users only.

Hardware requirements are a laptop computer mounted in the vehicle, a Ricochet high-speed modem and a camera mounted to view out the windshield. To support the devices in an always-on mode, we have two deep-cycle batteries installed in the vehicle that are dedicated to on-board electronics, plus an on-board charger and shore connection for use while in the station.

We're currently working on a helmet-mounted camera with a wireless video link to the command vehicle. This will allow the ic at the command vehicle to view a video feed from a roaming camera, plus stream the images to the Internet simultaneously. It's also possible to view images from a Web camera mounted in another command vehicle if wireless connectivity is available.

Our use of this technology is right at the beginning edge, and we're learning and refining the process almost daily. We're aware that there are concerns around privacy issues and the like, but are confident that the positives of the use of this equipment clearly outweigh the negatives.

Reprinted from Fire Chief magazine.
March 2001