AT&T opens its public safety network to volunteer first responders

You don't need an officially-issued phone to sign up.

AT&T's approach to a public safety network has been available for a while, but only for emergency crews that supply phones and plans. That's not much good if you're a volunteer firefighter or otherwise have to bring your own device. However, you won't be out of the loop for long. AT&T has launched FirstNet plans for first responders who have to use personal accounts, whether they're volunteers or careerists. You'll need to be verified and use a FirstNet-friendly device like the Galaxy S9 or V35 ThinQ, but you'll use the same dedicated emergency network as other crews.

You can sign up in both stores and online.

As before, AT&T"s network (and Verizon's, for that matter) is all about ensuring that firefighters, paramedics and police can communicate at times when regular cellular networks are bogged down. This latest move could be crucial to fulfilling that goal. AT&T pointed out that 70 percent of American firefighters are volunteers who would otherwise be shut out of FirstNet. If these responders didn't have an individual sign-up option, most of them would be at an inherent disadvantage at the very moment when they need a guaranteed connection.