iPhone app tracks Calif. firefighters' responses

Users can view active incidents, get the status of vehicles, view an interactive map, listen to live radio traffic and select what types of incidents they want to receive

By Sophia Kazmi
The Contra Costa Times

SAN RAMON, Calif. — A new Apple iPhone application will put users in touch with the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, and has given some college students a taste of what it's like to work in the real world.

Students at Northern Kentucky University developed the app, which will be available this summer. It will allow users to view active incidents and the response status of emergency vehicles dispatched to a call, and will even have an interactive map pinpointing the incidents.

Users can also listen to live radio traffic and select what types of incidents they want to receive, such as notices of structure fires or vehicle accidents.

Students became involved after Apple connected the university with the Fire Department, said Timothy Ferguson, executive director of the university's Infrastructure Management Institute.

Four students in the Mobile Academy program spent a few months developing the application.

"It's a cool place to work," Ferguson said. "Getting iPhone experience and iPad development experience is a really good thing for their resumes."

After they graduate, the program's students have the experience to help them land jobs in the field, Ferguson said.

They've developed about a dozen applications and another dozen are in the works. They partner with organizations from all over the world, and are not limited to iPhone apps for example, they have been commissioned for projects for other mobile phones, including Blackberry and Droid.

San Ramon Valley Fire wanted the iPhone app as another way to increase communication with tech-savvy residents, said Kimberly French, a department spokeswoman. The district spent about $5,000 to train the students, but the application was free.

A handful of East Bay cities, including San Ramon, have launched iPhone applications that allow users to report problems or check on the status of city projects. Tracy and Manteca also have launched applications. French said she believes San Ramon Valley Fire is the first fire department with such an application.

The agency already has several Twitter accounts and a revamped website. With so many people carrying iPhones, the app seemed like the next logical step, she said.

"We're always trying to figure out the next best thing and how we can communicate with people," French said.

Copyright 2010 Contra Costa Newspapers
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