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The smartphone: An irreplaceable tool on every fire call

Gone are the days of one-way pagers and dispatch notes; everything you need to know is in your pocket


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The smartphone: An irreplaceable tool on every fire call

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By Tim Nowak

Track your training, find the latest NFPA standards and get instant dispatch notifications with the firefighting tool you always have with you: your smartphone. Fire departments are equipping their firefighters with smartphone apps that act as a pager, recording dispatch calls and providing current intelligence aimed to aid in incident response. Get real-time maps and route addresses to ensure a timely response with the tap of an icon.

The sound of a banner printer frantically printing your call information seconds before the tones rang out once acted as a warning and precipitated a need to quickly get in the last bite of dinner. It seems that the days of rip-and-run dispatch notes are long gone – at least on paper.

Fire departments are equipping their firefighters with smartphone apps that act as a pager, recording dispatch calls and providing current intelligence aimed to aid in incident response. (Photo/Pixabay)
Fire departments are equipping their firefighters with smartphone apps that act as a pager, recording dispatch calls and providing current intelligence aimed to aid in incident response. (Photo/Pixabay)

Software advances remove guesswork from fire calls

Nowadays, the classic banner printer is replaced with a phone vibration or popular ringtone of your choice – which I would bet is the classic alarm from “Emergency!” for at least 50 percent of firefighters.

The theory behind this practice was always a solid one: having something right in front of you that listed the incident address, business name, key holder contact information and door code notes in a simplistic format. Instead, today’s notes are delivered via mobile data terminal (MDT) or on an individual level on crew members’ smartphones.

In the full-time setting, company officers and incident commanders can have all of the incident details right at their fingertips. There’s no more guessing which direction Engine 6 will be responding from; you can see their route right on your screen and have the ability to point out which water supply hydrant they should catch.

Is Main Street traffic congested? Should we take Washington Street instead? Access your interactive map and you can see for yourself, all while avoiding the headache of lights and siren response down a congested roadway.

Smartphones helped evolved the fire service

From the volunteer’s perspective, smartphone apps have given smaller departments a significant boost in their ability to be informed, accountable and better prepared for each call. One-way pagers serve a great purpose, but your smartphone can accomplish so much more, answering the questions you need to get the job done:

  • How far away do storage items need to be from a sprinkler head?
  • What are the cross streets for our call?
  • Weren’t we just at that business last week for a false alarm?
  • Who’s responding to this call?
  • Will we have enough personnel to staff that second engine?
  • Do our mutual aid resources have enough personnel to respond?

What used to require minutes of waiting to see who would show up to the station can now be seen in real-time through a response dashboard located on your smartphone or tablet, displayed on a screen at your station or visible at a dispatch console miles away.

Once on scene, hydrant locations, occupancy pre-plans, overhead images, key holder contact information and so much more are available at the tap of your screen. Need to look up your medical protocols or reference a prescription medication? There’s an app for that.

What about smartphone apps during “normal business” hours, such as while performing fire inspections, documenting training sessions or planning out your daily calendar? Nearly anything you want to know is at your fingertips.

Add images showing inspection violations in your report, or look up potential violations in your established fire codes. Send an online article to your crew members for discussion after lunch, or coordinate with another company for multi-district training this afternoon. All of this can be accomplished by simply opening an app and proceeding from there.

Worried about information sharing and security? Simply restrict access.

Don’t want your crews to be bothered with incident pages while off-duty? Update your settings to turn off your notifications when you’re not staffing a unit.

Smartphone apps have revolutionized information receiving, sending and sharing within the fire service. Whether they’re used as a primary or secondary source of notification, there’s no doubt that what can be received over a smartphone far exceeds what can be received over a one-way pager.

About the author
Tim Nowak, AAS, BS, NRP, CCEMT-P, SPO, MPO, is the founder and CEO of Emergency Medical Solutions, LLC, an independent EMS training and consulting company that he developed in 2010. He's been involved in EMS and emergency services since 2002, and has worked as an EMT, paramedic and critical care paramedic in a variety of urban, suburban, rural and hospital settings. He’s also been involved as an EMS educator, consultant, item writer, clinical preceptor, board member, reference product developer, firefighter and HazMat technician throughout his career.

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