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Colo. FD Looks at iPads for Tracking & Prevention

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 Each pre-plan binder can cost up to $150 to print, and they can frequently be out of date.”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.

Apps to Use the iPad Out of the Box

For those fire departments who are using the iPad's just out of the box, I recommend starting with four free apps that come pre-installed on the iPad.

Maps - click on the Maps app and you are greeted with a full screen mapping interface. The location should look familiar. If not, a click on the arrow button in the lower left corner of the map will move the map to your current location (assuming you have an active network connection). Search the map by entering keywords or addresses into the search field in the upper right portion of the map. Need fuel for the truck? Typing "gas," "fuel," or "diesel" will find options nearby. Need directions to the call? Switch to direction mode and type the address you wish to go to. The "from" address will use your current location by default. Notice that multiple routes are created, giving you instant alternatives in the event of construction or other obstacles.

Unfortunately, the newly released Apple Maps app in iOS 6 has received less than kind reviews. Many users report that the Apple maps are now less accurate than the Google maps used in previous iOS versions. I have certainly noticed these issues myself, and have found myself a bit frustrated with the new Apple maps. As you read the most recent consumer reviews, it is important to remember that creating a mapping application is no small undertaking. Now that Apple has millions of users that can point out inaccuracies throughout the world, I am hopeful that they will be working diligently to rapidly improve this new app.

Notes & Reminders - this is an excellent tool for taking meeting minutes or jotting down key points from discussions you have throughout the day. A tap of the arrow button near the bottom of the notes page will display the option to email or print the document. When you stop at Station 2 you need to remember to pick up the new helmets to bring to Station 3, use the Reminders app. After creating the reminder to "pick up the helmets", click on the text to set a reminder alert.

Camera - the iPad has not one, but two cameras; one rear-facing for traditional photo and video capture, and one front-facing for video conferencing. Photos and videos are stored in the Photos and Videos apps for review and can be shared by email or text message. The Facetime app leverages the iPad's cameras to provide an out-of-the-box video calling solution, making it easy to video chat with other iPad or iPhone users.

Mail - setup all of your mail accounts and easily check and respond to messages throughout the day. Turning the iPad horizontally displays a list of messages along the left hand side, with the selected message displaying on the right side of the screen. Turning the device vertically focuses the entire screen on the selected message.

The new VIP feature in iOS 6 allows users to add important email addresses to their VIP list. VIP messages are filtered into a separate mailbox for easy viewing. VIP messages may also be displayed as notifications in the iPads notification center.

JARRET WINKELMAN is the sales director at Incident Response Technologies, Inc. (IRT), which provides cloud-based incident management systems for public safety organizations. Winkelman has extensive public safety experience including having held chief officer roles in EMS and search and rescue organizations as well serving as a federal hazmat responder. You can reach Jarret by e-mail at: