By Chris Mc Loone
Mobile data computers (MDCs) or mobile data terminals (MDTs) have been the primary source of mobile information for the fire service in recent years.
As wireless technologies have advanced, it has become possible for chiefs’ vehicles, ambulances, and fire apparatus to carry laptops configured as MDCs and MDTs. Information relayed includes CAD information with the location of the call; mapping options with the location of the incident; hydrant locations; preplan information if available; and in some cases, depending on the software, GPS functions for routing to the call.
Although these have increased the availability of information at the point of dispatch and response, the MDCs do not always allow for true mobility on the fireground. What do allow for mobility are the various mobile apps available to consumers and now at an increasing pace to the fire service.
Apps for the fire service are not new. They have been around for a while from simple “police scanner apps” to more involved apps that serve as references-for example, for tying the various knots we need to know to perform our duties. Although apps for the fire service have been around for a while, none has been designed to cull data from various sources and put them in one central location to be at the disposal of incident commanders (ICs) during a response and once on the fireground.
An issue like this is often the mother of creation, and it is what led Charlie Jacobson, a Princeton University student from Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to look into designing an app geared specifically for ICs that focuses on, according to Jacobson, accurate and efficient data collection for a more effective response.
FireStop is the world’s first end-to-end, cloud-based system that helps
The FireStop App
According to Jacobson, the idea for the FireStop app came from his own experience at the Englewood Cliffs (NJ) Fire Department. “We got a grant for technology, so we bought software that did some of the job,” he says. “It helped us collect a database of information. We had the capability to view the information on the go, but no one was really using it. There was no great way to access the data. Still, we were seeing day in and day out how useful this data could be on the fireground. I thought not only would firefighters want to use better designed software, but also that it could make a huge impact on firefighting operations.”
The app itself is geared toward the IC for fire response. Jacobson says it provides all the important information an IC needs to know while en route and on scene. “So, we’re talking about how to get to the incident, what you’re dealing with at the incident, what’s around you, routing, satellite imagery, and once you’re on scene giving you the nearest hydrants, building information, what you’re likely to find inside, and other hazards that might be in the area,” comments Jacobson. The app performs these functions by harnessing Google’s vast capabilities to provide users with access to the most recent satellite imagery and StreetView of the fire building and nearby exposures.
The idea for the app is that it sits in the cab of first- and second-due apparatus or chief’s cars. But as the incident grows, it is oriented for the IC to have an overall view of the location of all apparatus, what kind of resources he has at hand, the incident he’s dealing with, and the building. “We don’t want to be interfering with the firefighting process,” says Jacobson. “We just want to be able to enable it and make it more effective.”
FireStop provides ICs with information on what they are dealing with at the
According to Jacobson, FireStop is much more than just an app for the iPad. “We’re a comprehensive solution to give firefighters a tool to not only view this information on the go but also all the tools needed to build up this database,” he says. “We’re the first truly Web-, cloud-based software platform for firefighting.” What that allows firefighters to do, asserts Jacobson, is integrate a variety of data sources as well as allow them to work with a variety of users to collect and input the information. “Traditionally, departments would have to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours inputting this information. But now, a few firefighters can work with hundreds of different users-homeowners, business owners, insurance representatives, inspectors, and so on-and effectively gather a lot of accurate information in a fraction of the time.”
Getting Information to ICs
When a dispatch is received, the emergency information is relayed from CAD software at the time of an incident to the FireStop servers and then pushed out to all the devices that need it. “These devices, whether in the chief’s car, apparatus, or users’ hands at the firehouse, get immediate push notifications of emergency information and access to all the preplanning information they’ve collected in the cloud database,” says Jacobson.
Additionally, Jacobson envisions this app eventually syncing with some of the firefighter locator systems currently in development and on the market. “There’s really no reason not to,” he says. “Getting back to it being the first truly cloud-based Web mobile software platform for firefighting, the data doesn’t live on our servers or at the firehouse. It lives, safe and secure, in Amazon’s cloud. We’re so easily integrateable with other data streams that this is truly possible.”
The idea for the app is that it sits in the cab of first- and second-due
App usage for the fire service is becoming more widespread and using apps for responding firefighters is becoming more pervasive. “I think we’re in an exciting time right now, where attention is just finally starting to turn toward these mobile apps and cutting edge technologies that we use in all other aspects of our daily lives and putting them on the fireground,” says Jacobson. “I think we’re just starting to touch on the possibilities here.”
Jacobson cites the many response apps that are already available. “Responders are able to call in to let their station know they’re coming,” he explains. “Everyone at the station is then able to see in real time who’s coming to determine the best use of resources. Resources are going out, and you can see where they are going. In the past, you’d have to figure all this stuff out. Now, essentially, you could do a whole size-up in the firehouse before you even leave and have a lot more information than you even know being at the scene.” Jacobson asserts that having this information at the firehouse means once on scene, ICs can better organize and put away the clipboards for personnel management and apparatus management because they are all seen electronically. “A lot of what we do as firefighters is so carefully thought out and planned in terms of careful command structure, careful apparatus placement, and sending crews to certain places to do certain jobs that we can make ourselves a lot more efficient and effective by using technology,” Jacobson says.
As great as technology is, Jacobson acknowledges that there must be a balance. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be firefighters going into a building and using common sense to do the job that they’ve been trained to do, and they know how to do it best,” he says. “This is something we always keep at mind at FireStop-we’re not telling them how to do their jobs better. But, we are providing them with all these different resources to organize themselves better and have access to information in real time to be more aware of what they’re doing and deal with it more efficiently.
Jacobson isn’t the first firefighter to develop an app, and he won’t be the last. He does, however, have some advice for aspiring firefighter app developers. “I think the biggest thing is product market fit and really understanding your users, what they need, and if there really is a problem out there or a need that you can solve,” he says. “If so, then you know you’re onto something.”
He concludes by expressing his excitement for this emerging area for the fire service. “It’s really exciting to see people really starting to take a look at this. You’re going to see some serious quality products emerge. On our end, we’re really excited about this industry, this space, what’s happening right now, and the difference we could potentially make.”
CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 20-year veteran of the fire service and an assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.