Rural Fire Departmnet Demonstrates Importance of High-Speed Internet
Fire District 7 facility located in Dixie Inn
By Elise Saloom
For Brian Williams, the battle to gain broadband access for the volunteer fire department in Dixie Inn has been a difficult one.
Williams, the former fire chief of Fire District 7 in Dixie Inn and director of the Webster Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, began working in fire service nearly 23 years ago.
Throughout his 13-year tenure as the fire chief in Dixie Inn, Williams became familiar with the challenges of getting high-speed internet to a small, rural area.
“It’s hard for us to even get on the internet and send an email,” Williams said. “That is why we reached out to satellite providers and just anybody to get internet out there. We need internet to run the fire station for training our volunteers every week. We need it to do our required reporting to the National Fire Incident Reporting System and the state of Louisiana.”
With a population of just 284, Dixie Inn sits 26 miles east of Shreveport near Minden, the seat of Webster Parish. Hurricanes, ice storms, wildfires, floods and tornados frequently disrupt internet service in the rural areas of northwest Louisiana.
In addition to outages caused by weather conditions, many of these areas are simply underserved when it comes to broadband access. For nearly a decade, Williams’ fire department has been facing devastating internet challenges.
Although six fiber optic lines run in front of the fire station, high costs have made this resource impractical. Recently, the fire department opted for an internet service out of Bossier City; however, with only a 10-megabit download speed, the fire station was still unable to run efficiently.
While attending a broadband meeting earlier this year, Williams spoke with representatives from AT&T to figure out a solution for his department. After conversations with the representatives and engineers, he reached a decision he hopes will put an end to their experience with ineffective and costly service.
“We are now working with AT&T FirstNet to get a hotspot and try it in the location,” Williams said. “We tested a device the other day that seemed to get good signal and service, so we are moving forward with the FirstNet hotspot because that is going to be the only thing that we can utilize currently that is cost efficient.”
While the fire department initially tried FirstNet when it was introduced several years ago, the effort was unsuccessful due to the lack of AT&T towers nearby. Since then, AT&T has built several 5G towers in the area giving Williams a bit of optimism.
“We are hoping that it will fix our issue of the slow internet speed and allow us to complete our fire reports and things that we do online a lot faster,” Williams said.
Additionally, it will give the volunteer firefighters access to their online training at a significantly faster speed.
“By having that access to the fire station, our hope is that we will have our volunteers ready to go for calls,” he said.