East Hartford Fire Switching To iPad-Based Communications Program

EAST HARTFORD — Seconds before emergency operators dispatched firefighters to a serious car accident on High Street in July, Deputy Chief Christopher Tardif had all the information he needed at his fingertips.

"See, we just heard [the operator] say that she's about to dispatch to an auto accident. We already have that information here. She hasn't event sent it yet," he said, scrolling through an iPad. "It says 'car into a house with rollover and injuries'."

Captain Web, a new online communications program for the iPad, instantly received call information from the dispatch system. It also provided a map with the location of the crash, offered turn-by-turn directions to the address and showed icons representing fire trucks that were en route.

Tardif, who helped develop Captain Web, said it is faster, easier to navigate and cheaper than the private network technology currently offered by the Capitol Region Council of Governments. The program was funded by CRCOG and is also accessible on Android and Windows devices.

While the web-based dispatch information program is in the final stages of development, the East Hartford Fire Department is ready to begin using it and is purchasing 10 iPads within a couple of months to replace the department's 8-year-old Toughbooks, said Fire Chief John Oates.

The heavy-duty laptops can't be upgraded and new ones cost close to $4,000 each. The iPads are much smaller and cheaper, he said.

"When you start doing the math to replace every single one, you're well in excess of $50,000, as opposed to getting the same level of functionality out of an iPad or a tablet-based device for $1,000," Oates said.

Other departments plan to follow suit, and not just because of the cost difference.

Captain Web is an online version of Captain Fire, the private network program, and offers almost all the same features. But being able to access it online is not only cheaper, it offers mobility, said Deputy Chief Bob Regina of the Newington Fire Department.

The laptops are currently mounted inside the fire trucks and are useless if removed.

"By going to the iPad or a newer tablet running Windows, it gives the command staff the ability to walk away from the vehicle on the scene and have the information at their fingertips," he said.

Deputy Chief Jim Nolan of the Enfield Fire Department said Captain Fire prohibits the use of other programs or visiting a website without first asking the developer for access.

"The benefit of this web version is it doesn't restrict doing things other than Captain [Fire]. We can go to other websites that we want at any time," he said.

Tardif said he reached out to Telepartner International, a Middletown company that co-developed Captain Fire, a few years ago to point out a few glitches in their program. Once those problems were ironed out, they worked to create a web version.

Captain Web has been in the works for about a year and a half. Tardif has been using the program almost exclusively in East Hartford and has been instrumental its development, said Brian Biales, vice president of development at Telepartner.

"I get input from some other departments, but Chief Tardif is the most active by far," he said. "He's a very good person to talk to because he takes it on calls. If there's something missing, he'll let me know and if there's something that was super helpful, he lets me know that, too."

One of "coolest" features, Biales said, is the preplan information that gives firefighters valuable details about the buildings they're responding to, like sprinkler shut-off locations, gas shut-off locations and roof access.

Tardif said the pre-plan information can also include the location of alarm panels, building contacts and a list of hazardous materials on the property. Captain Web shows locations of fire hydrants and can open Department of Transportation web cameras, which is helpful when firefighters are responding to crashes on the highway.

"I'm pulling up with a lot of information already in my head and that's the benefit of it. Before you would get an address, if you didn't know where it was you'd have to look at it in a paper map," he said. "Our pre-incident information used to be in these big binders and you would have to thumb through it."

Like Captain Fire, the new web version is a regional program and gives departments using the program access to each other's call information, said Tardif.

"I can get Hartford's information or anyone else in the system. I can get their information also if we're going to that community for mutual aid," Tardif said, adding that responding to mutual aid calls in towns they're not familiar with is when the turn-by turn directions are most helpful.

There are plans to add other features, like distinguishing abandoned buildings so that firefighters responding to a fires at those buildings know not to go inside. He would also like to track the department's bike teams when they go on medical calls at Rentschler Field and to track rescue boats conducting searches on the Connecticut River.

"Our goal was to make it as seamless and flawless as possible before the masses use it and it's really close now. It's only a couple of months away," Tardif said.