Colorado is only state testing military tech to keep firefighters safe

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DENVER -- Colorado is the only state in the country testing and tweaking military technology that could help save firefighters' lives.

The technology is called ATAK - Android Team Awareness Kit.

It's essentially a tool that tells firefighters exactly where they are and what kind of fire they're seeing.

"Right now we do a pretty good job with 'what' over our radios, but the hardest thing is to describe 'where' the 'what' is happening," said Ben Miller, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control Center of Excellence Director.

That could very well save firefighters' lives.

Originally, the Air Force Research Lab developed ATAK to help keep Special Forces safe in war zones. It would show fighter pilots where troops were on the ground, so the pilots wouldn't accidentally fire on American forces.

Now, Colorado is the only state that has federal approval to take that technology and tweak it for firefighters.

"We don’t need icons that are about targeting," Miller told FOX31. "We need icons that are about the fire service."

Another thing firefighters need is a cell signal.

Many times wildfires happen in remote areas with very little cell service.

"Everybody has that problem, 'Hey - my cell phone doesn’t work in a given area,'" Miller said. "For public safety, it is the same way. In fact, maybe even more so. So we’re looking at things called pseudo-satellites."

Those are basically solar-powered planes that would fly in the stratosphere and send a cell signal down to firefighters below.

This past summer, some Colorado firefighters tested ATAK while battling the Lake Christine, Cabin Lake and Tabeguache fires.

They used high-powered radios to create a network, of sorts, in the area to allow the phones to communicate.

Miller said Colorado will keep testing and tweaking the ATAK technology and hopes to have it ready for firefighters nationwide in a few years.

The ATAK technology is free, but the state is spending some money to tweak it and implement it.

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