NSW Rural Fire Service

At a Glance

  • One of the largest fire services in the world with 70,000 volunteers
  • Scalable with 100% up time
  • Face-to-face strategic meetings link 47 districts
  • Travel and time savings across 800,000 kilometres

Beating Bushfires in Australia with Video Collaboration

When temperatures soar in New South Wales, Australia, the risk of bushfire is extreme. Miscommunication could mean someone's life.

The New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service, a volunteer-based firefighting agency established over a hundred years ago, uses video in their everyday workflow. Firefighters and volunteers coordinate firefighting efforts, train personnel, and share knowledge with a community spread across 800,000 square kilometers. Lives and property depend on the reliability of this technology.

These capabilities are mission critical during times of fire emergency. Incident leaders are able to display fire maps in real time with far-flung teams, enabling them to create firefighting strategies on the fly. "The non-verbal communications aspect with our people is important," says Jason Heffernan, acting regional director of the NSW Rural Fire Service. "You get to see the whites of their eyes and gain that rapport with a person, allowing for a greater in-depth conversation."

System failure is unacceptable when combating fire, notes Ashley Van Amstel, information technology manager at NSW Rural Fire Service. One of the advantages of Polycom RealPresence One is it is virtualized, so if a system fails, the data can simply be moved to another server. "We can't be in the middle of fighting a fire and have the system go down," says Van Amstel. "It's extremely important that we have redundancy. It could mean someone's life."

With Polycom RealPresence One, NSW Rural Fire Service has the flexibility of adding and subtracting video licenses with a simple phone call. Staff and volunteers can stay connected in real-time, regardless of the scale of incidents they may encounter.

NSW Rural Fire Service is also using video collaboration to defy distance. With management and firefighting teams populating over 100 offices– often hundreds of kilometers apart – key players are brought together at the drop of a hat to fight fire, for briefings, and for learning and development. On the community level, the department is saving hours and dollars for its staff and volunteers, and in the same breath, making fire safety and prevention messaging available to a much wider community.

For Heffernan, video has become a vital tool to fighting fire. "Whether we're discussing fire incident strategies instantaneously, or general day-to-day business, it has allowed us to stay connected and informed amongst our people."

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