Tablets add to fire department’s arsenal

Prospect Fire Chief William Lauber goes through the applications available on one of the fire department’s tablets July 26 at the firehouse. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

PROSPECT — Tablets have become a standard piece of equipment at the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect.

Five of the departments’ response vehicles have iPads mounted in them by the front passenger seat. There’s another tablet mounted in the radio room at the firehouse, and one for the fire marshal to use.

“You have to be on top of the game with technology these days,” Fire Chief William Lauber said.

The department bought the seven tablets for roughly $1,750 about six months ago, and the cost was offset some with a grant from FM Global, a mutual insurance company, Lauber said. The department’s motor engineer installed them, he said.

The tablets put software the department has been using for several years right in front of firefighters as they respond to a call. The department uses multiple software applications. One of the most frequent ones used is Rover, an app developed by Spotted Dog Technologies.

When a call comes in, Lauber explained, firefighters that have the app on their cellphones or tablets get an alert and can acknowledge that they are responding. The app then monitors where firefighters are, how many are responding and when they’ll arrive at the firehouse.

Using this information, Lauber said, decisions can be made like whether to call for mutual aid.

“It comes in very useful for us being volunteers where we have members that have to respond from their houses to the firehouse,” Lauber said.

The app also pinpoints the location of the call on a map and shows where fire hydrants are in the area — if there are any — and responders can determine the best access to the site for firetrucks.

The firefighters also have access to field guides for motor vehicles so they can look up information and diagrams of cars when they are at an accident scene. Lauber said this particularly comes in handy when dealing with hybrid or electric cars. In cases where someone has to be extricated from a hybrid or electric car, he said, firefighters have to be careful where they cut due to high voltage cables.

Information such as this previously was in books and guides in the back of rescue vehicles or at the firehouse.

“All the information is right in front of them on tablets. This is something career departments have been using for ages, and even other volunteer departments, it’s new to us within the last few months,” Lauber said. “We’ve kind of gotten on board with the 21st century.”

The department is also working to collect information on commercial buildings and properties in town, like where hazardous materials are stored and where utility lines runs. The information is used to develop a preplan for fighting a fire at a building that can be brought up on the tablets, Lauber said.

One of the buildings the department has developed a preplan for is the recently-built Dollar General Store on Union City Road. The preplan details information like where the gas shutoff and boiler room are, Lauber said.

The tablets are also easier to relate to for younger members of the department, who have taken to showing some of the older members the ways to use the technology, Lauber said.

“Our younger members aren’t trained to go up and look in a response book or in on a paper map where the nearest hydrant is,” he said. “They were born and raised using cellphones and tablets.”

The department doesn’t have tablets in each of its vehicles yet — the new fire engine arriving next year will — but they are going to be standard going forward, Lauber said.

“It’s a step toward the future, and we’re going to keep building on it,” he said.