Feb. 12--The first phase of a city pilot program of firefighters using iPads and other tablet computers drew praise from officials as helping the department improve both its response times and public safety.
Proposed by Councilman Mike Bonin as a way to modernize the Los Angeles Fire Department, the six-month study has proven to be of value in replacing paper maps and downloading training manuals and information key to battling blazes and responding to medical emergencies. Bonin said costs have been minimal, with most firefighters volunteering their time.
The LAFD, the city's Information Technology Agency and a private working group from the tech community are participating in developing applications that are of value to the department.
Norman Chang, who has worked with a number of high-tech firms, went on ride-alongs with firefighters to see firsthand the situations that arise and the information that would be beneficial to have at one's fingertips. He also spoke with officials from public-safety agencies already using the tablets around the country.
"The first thing I noticed is there was no ability to see data layers on digital maps, such as where fire hydrants or other trucks are located," Chang said.
Assistant Fire Chief Pat Butler said the department consistently has problems in using paper maps, as over time crease marks tend to obliterate the name of streets.
Butler cited several ways the devices helped provide information on where firefighters were located and the conditions in certain buildings -- such as the existence of solar panels -- that would mitigate how a fire is controlled.
LAFD pilots also have been able to make use of the tablets to help track where they or other craft are in the air and enter specific information about airports in the area.
Bonin called the tablet program a Fire Strategic Integration Program (FIRSTIN) and said it needed further study before it can be incorporated citywide.
Butler pointed out that officials are being careful not to make any promises to companies about using their programs or buying their materials before a larger decision is made.
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