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Mobile Fire App to Shave Seconds Off Operations

A new iPad app developed by students at Princeton University is now being piloted by fire departments that hope to save precious seconds during calls.

A new iPad app developed for firefighters in the field delivers critical information quickly. Developed by three Princeton University students with a common interest in the fire service, the app provides data like building layouts, fire hydrant locations and hazardous materials warnings to give firefighters the critical information they need during an emergency.

"Our goal is to bring better information to firefighters," said Charlie Jacobson, developer on the project and volunteer firefighter, reported. "And we need to provide this information quickly and intuitively."

The app, called FireStop, quickly draws information from a database and displays it in an easy-to-read format. Such databases are common tools for fire departments, but apps like FireStop make the data useful during active calls. "It's about the interface," Jacobson said. "You click the button and it's right there." According to the FireStop website, the team hopes using the app will save departments 90 seconds of firefighting operations.

Fire companies already have a lot to think about and a lot of training to keep up on, he said, so they don’t need to learn how to use new software, too. The app also addresses a challenge firefighters often face when trying to use technology in emergency environments -- lost connectivity. FireStop establishes a secure connection between agency databases and user devices, and maintains access to data even in the event of a lost connection.

The app attempts to encrypt and store as much information as possible in the user’s device and on FireStop’s cloud servers while there is an active connection, Jacobson told Government Technology via email. “That way, if a firefighter does lose connection while en route, he or she will still have access to all the most recent data pulled down from the cloud before leaving the firehouse,” he said.

The FireStop team, composed of Princeton rising sophomores Jacobson, Eddie Zhou, and James Siderius, has partnered with fire departments in central and northern New Jersey, including Princeton Fire Department and Princeton University's Department of Public Safety. Initially developed as part of eLab, a summer business accelerator at the Princeton Keller Center at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the goal of the pilot is to establish that the interface is easy to use and that data can easily be collected from outside agencies, such as the town building inspector’s office.

One of the challenges facing FireStop, the developers said, is their funding model. Because fire departments often have tight budgets, the team realized they could not expect to charge each department an hourly fee to develop a custom application. The team has looked to grant funding as one possibility and is now working to develop the app as generic software for universal deployment.

“We are fine-tuning our data migration tools to minimize both the amount of work required by new fire departments to sign up and additional work needed by us to incorporate each unique, pre-existing database,” he said. FireStop is now scheduled for a public release in the next six months, Jacobson said.

A similar iPad app was developed by the local government of Longboat Key, Fl. In addition to providing firefighters building information during fires, the app also has a module to simplify the inspection process and an electronic logging system that streamlines recordkeeping. Longboat Key is also looking to branch out with its app and make the technology available to other interested jurisdictions, like Boca Raton, Fl., and Longwood, Fl.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.