Fire & Rescue NSW to deploy “fire-fighter proof” tablets

Ruggedised tablets and mobile phones are needed for NSW fire-fighters, according to staff feedback.

Emergency fire and rescue response teams in New South Wales will have ruggedised iPad tablets for use in their fire engines next year.

Fire & Rescue NSW IT infrastructure assistant director Malcolm Thompson told delegates at NetIQ’s Rethinking Security conference in Sydney this week that the demand for tablets was the result of an email he sent to all 330 NSW station commanders a few months ago to find out how the IT department could better service the needs of fire-fighters.

“Unlike a lot of businesses our front line isn’t out there with robots and technology. They’re out there with hoses and axes,” he said.

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Two areas which station commanders mentioned needed improvement were new ruggedised tablets and phones.

Thompson said the tablets would replace bulky manuals which fire-fighters must consult in order to determine what chemicals they are dealing with in a building fire, and what happens when water reacts with those chemicals.

“Station commanders told us, `Help us with these manuals’. At the time, we said, `Easy, let’s roll out iPads’ because that is what iPads are made for-- looking information up,” he said.

“We’re looking at a fire-fighter proof version [of the iPad] because they’re used to throwing things around in an emergency.”

Thompson confirmed that Fire & Rescue NSW was already using ruggedised Panasonic Toughbooks but fire-fighters needed a device with a touch screen.

“Unlike the NSW Police where they can use a Toughbook in their vehicle, our guys have gloves on,” he said.

“Toughbooks work very well but we are looking for something a bit more mobile.”

Chunky mobiles

Station commanders also highlighted the need for fire-fighters to have new ruggedised phones to access while in the field.

“I thought, `Hello, here comes the iPhones’,” Thompson said. “Instead, what they wanted was a big chunky phone with big buttons which has one directory.”

Thompson said Fire & Rescue NSW has deployed ruggedised mobile phones for fire-fighters, which it had to source from the US as it can be difficult to find such phones in Australia because of the push for consumer devices such as the iPhone.

However, the rescue service found the ruggedised phones from the US have problems syncing with Next G and 4G networks in Australia, he said.

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