Communications & Technology Supporting the NFFF Memorial Service

On October 6, 2002, the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF) facilitated its largest memorial service ever. This article will take a look at some of the technology support that helped make the remembrance ceremony a great success. This article will highlight the communications and presentation technology that proved to be a critical component.

Months before October 6th, NFFF planners were meeting on a regular basis to work out details, the 'what-ifs' and to do their best to establish realistic contingency plans. Officers from many departments were involved through a coordinated effort by NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki.

This article will divide the Memorial Service into two segments:

  1. Communications technology for supporting cast
  2. Technology involved in the delivery of the program

Sign displayed inside the Marriott at the Nextel/Motorola Command Center
Field personnel coordinate via Nextel Wireless phone and Service
"F" Street Command monitors radio traffic on Motorola trunked radio
"F" Street Commander communicates to field units by Motorola radio
The initial stage lighting with the blue background
Stage lighting changed to red and more dramatic
Stage lighting transitions to patriotic flag background
A look at the video camera that will capture the presentation and display it on the video screens over the stage and to television feed.
Two video screens that also project the service enhance the stage.
A replica of the Memorial Monument located in Emmitsburg
Podium shown with teleprompter
Teleprompter can be seen with reference to Senator Biden's reading.
Jumbotron viewer being delivered by tractor-trailer
Various stages of jumbotron setup
Denis Onieal, National Fire Academy is viewed on the Jumbotron during the service.


Nextel and Motorola stepped up and provided the infrastructure, portable radios, wireless telephones and the network service to make it all work. In unison with the NFFF, Nextel and Motorola established their own seamless command center in an adjacent room at the Washington DC Marriott where the NFFF Command Center was located. The Nextel/Motorola Command Center was staffed 24/7 a week prior to the October 6th event.

NFFF Executive Director Ron Siarnicki told, "The partnership with Nextel and Motorola helped us meet critical communication needs for such a large scale event, especially since it was held in the Nation's capitol. We were very excited and appreciative about the partnership with no cost to the NFFF.

"F Street Commander Dave Hartman (Charlottesville FD) explained, "Whenever we needed something for communications, regardless of the time of day, Nextel's Incident Commander Michael Walker was there to meet the need."

Collectively Nextel and Motorola provided over 500 wireless devices (portable radios and wireless telephones). The wireless hardware included several models from Motorola's iDEN platform, including the r750 MIL-STD 810 C/D/E advanced feature phones with headsets and speaker microphones. Over 80% of NFFF units accessed mobile data features via "Nextel on Line" on their handsets.

Nextel showcased a host of other equipment including specialized user programming software, the i Board, a folding keyboard for Nextel data enabled phones, integration with Roam Secure's online incident management software, & a full range of audio accessories including 200 headsets with in-line Push-To-Talk buttons, donated by JABRA Corporation.

Nextel's contribution, highlighted by an $135,000.00 airtime donation, was provided at the direction of Nick Sample, Nextel's Area Vice President for Baltimore, Washington and Virginia as a demonstration of Nextel's support of this tribute to fallen firefighters and their families.

35 Nextel employees handled provisioning, activation, programming, setup, delivery, training and care under Nextel "Incident Commander" & volunteer firefighter Michael Walker.

Motorola provided 140 trunked radios that operated off the Washington D.C. Office of Emergency Communications system. In addition, 12 conventional radios were provided for use at the National Cathedral Service on Saturday night. Motorola's staff consisted of personnel that could provide logistical and technical knowledge that could assist with distribution and programming the radios.

The system used state of the art equipment and provided interoperability between all functional levels.

This communication equipment was invaluable and I personally observed communications between the various command staff personnel to their subordinate supporting members in the field. It was truly a dynamic demonstration of communications technology and would have been difficult if not impossible to communicate as effectively without this vital support.

Law enforcement was also on the scene in full force to support the memorial service. Naturally with such a large influx of people there would be need for a coordinated effort between law enforcement agencies and to provide radio logistical support. The City of Baltimore provided their state-of-the-art technology police mobile command post. This vehicle is a 2002, MT-55 Freightliner truck and is 13 feet tall, 45 feet long and 7 feet wide.

The mobile command post aka Technical Assistance Response Unit is equipped with a sophisticated communication system that allows the department to interface with law enforcement and other city agencies as well as federal agencies. It can work with and track through helicopter surveillance through a microwave-down link. The unit also is equipped with two video cameras. The unit was originally purchased not only for crime fighting but also in crisis situations, emergencies and special events.


Prior to such an event much must be done to choreograph the program, ready the stage, prepare the lighting and setup the video equipment. Remember, this would be the largest memorial service ever coordinated by the NFFF. The program would draw thousands of firefighters, would be broadcast on CSPAN and would be covered by many media agencies but more important the service must be done in such a way that it truly honored those that firefighter that made the ultimate sacrifice.

The stage preparation and lighting was quite interesting. The lighting technicians informed me that they were on hand two days prior to prepare the specific lighting for this service. The lighting includes actual lights combined with computer coordination. Stage lighting was set for some very dramatic and beautiful changes during the program.

Aside from the stage lighting, there are also other video components that tie into the overall presentation. First the video technicians come in a day in advance and check the video connections and setup the video cameras.

In addition to the lighting and video components, there is also the stage design. Since this year the event would be held in DC it would require that a replica of the memorial monument that is located at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The stage would also be the location where many speakers would present their thoughts to the friends and family members. Speakers would include elected officials and fire service leaders. In order for it to fully facilitate the needs of the speakers, a podium and teleprompter was provided.

While I was taking photos regarding technology, I happened to have the privilege of hearing Ron Kanterman speak to the choir that would sing shortly after the taking of this photo. His statements were truly heartfelt and left him in a moment of pause to regain his composure. Ron told the kids to just do their best and that it would mean so much to the families. They were all touched by his comments and so was I.

Exterior to the MCI Center, other technical equipment would also be used to display the events that were occurring inside the MCI Center to those that may not be able to enter the MCI Center. Two Jumbotron viewers were placed in operation and were delivered by tractor-trailer. Each Jumbotron was about 14 feet by 20 feet and was setup in stages.

The event is over and the Memorial Service was exceptional. It is important to understand the efforts that were made by so many to achieve that goal. As a member of the fire service, I wish to thank all that were involved (technology and otherwise) to make this a wonderful tribute to those that died in the line of duty.