When you hear the word tablet, what comes to mind? Is it a laptop that can rotate into a keyboard-less machine? Is it a slate computer with a multifunction pen for handwriting recognition? If you are like most of the firefighters I talk to everyday, tablet means only one thing: the Apple iPad. So what is it about this device that has firefighters scrambling to their Boards with purchase requests? Let me invite you to follow along as we strive to answer that very question by asking you – firefighters from around the country – why you love your iPad.
Historically, it was common for a fire department to first identify a need. Then a software program would be selected to address the need. Finally, the appropriate hardware was selected based on recommendations from the software vendor. Now, it seems that this paradigm has been reversed. I get calls from agencies almost daily that have already purchased iPads, and have yet to determine how they will be utilized. Not to fear brave new iPad owners, there are dozens of apps that will make your department more organized, efficient and safer.
Let us start with the first step, why should a fire department consider implementing iPads. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lt. David Cocetti from the South Metro Fire Department in Colorado regarding their recent purchase of six iPads for a pilot program. Cocetti is quick to point out the mobility benefits that the iPads bring to the table. Currently, he says the department's mobile data terminals (MDTs) are mounted in the apparatus and some cannot be removed from the vehicle, making them difficult to utilize during active incidents. The iPad can go with the incident commander in or out of the vehicle.
Cocetti is also quick to point out the potential financial benefits that the iPad can provide. For example, the lieutenant says, “One of our tower's has 17 pre-plan binders. Each pre-plan binder can cost up to $150 to print, and they can frequently be out of date.” He hopes to use an Apple server in the department’s dispatch center to host all of the department’s pre-plan documents, making them accessible by the iPad devices in the field. Every time an apparatus backs into the station, it will automatically connect wirelessly to the server and update the pre-plan files with the latest versions.
Non-Suppression & Mitigation Uses
In addition to incident response, the iPad can benefit fire departments in their administrative and day-to-day tasks. Cocetti listed more than 10 apps that are currently being tested on their iPads ranging from EMS protocols to Hazmat guides to inventory programs. The iPad can quickly organize file cabinets, spreadsheets and sticky notes into manageable, organized, data.
This all sounds great, you say, but the iPad looks much too fragile to survive life in the firehouse. According to Cocetti, he can purchase approximately 10 iPads for the price of one of their traditional MDT units. In his words, and he is not the first I have heard utter these words, the iPad allows agencies to treat hardware as an almost disposable item. The lower upfront cost can allow agencies to more frequently update to newer hardware versions. And if a unit is seriously damaged, it is likely most economical to simply buy a new one. For extra piece of mind, I recommend protecting your department's iPads with a rugged case, such as the Defender Series Case by Otterbox. Combine the case with an accessory like Otterbox’s Utility Series Latch to make it easy to hold the iPad with one hand, or even clip it to your gear with the included carabiner.
Like any new technology, the opportunities for the iPad device seem endless and this is only the beginning. With the recent release of iOS6, we have seen the first stages of opportunity that the iPad brings to the fire service.