As the twelfth largest city in the U.S., the Indianapolis Fire Department service district covers 278 square miles of downtown Indianapolis and the surrounding areas. The department supports more than 1,200 workers in various roles, making it critical to find efficient ways to keep its large workforce productive and connected.
Captain Dale Rolfson, I.T. Manager for Indianapolis FD, has been with the department for 28 years, even before the department had an established mobility plan in place. Before transitioning to computers the department operated the entire system with pen and paper, which ended up costing valuable time and resources.
Indianapolis FD needed a reliable solution that could withstand the challenging conditions faced by workers in the station and out in the field.
After researching and evaluating several device options, the department selected a range of Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets for integration across the organization.
The department was able to save money, time and resources, while improving overall processes.
"Workers would have to come back to the office and enter the information into software programs, or hire somebody to do so," said Captain Rolfson.
The department knew they needed a mobility solution to improve work processes, reduce costs and maximize efficiency.
"We tried another brand initially because the city was already using the brand's consumer-grade laptops," said Captain Rolfson. "We thought we would try their rugged computers but that didn't last very long."
The first major issue was the devices were not truly rugged – the devices could not hold up to the demands of the job. The other big problem the department encountered was the weight of the device. Inspectors needed to carry around their laptop all day, and the extra weight was causing health issues for some employees.
"Holding a heavy laptop with one arm all day long puts tremendous strain on the back and shoulders. But the Toughpad tablet is such a small, lightweight device that our inspectors can literally strap it on their hand and go. It's been so much easier on the workers than the larger, heavier device was."
Captain Rolfson knew his workforce had different needs, and evaluated both Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets.
"I did a lot of research," said Captain Rolfson. "I had to include the city's IT, police department IT and others in public safety to make sure everyone was comfortable with the devices. I also spoke with other agencies. Wayne Township, for example, was using Toughbook 31 and Toughbook 53 laptops, and they had the Toughbook computers in their vehicles for three years without any problems. We wanted to make sure we were investing in reliable technology. Indianapolis EMS personnel have used Toughbook 19 laptops for about ten years – the very strong track record of performance and reliability with a variety of different products really sold the city's IT department on the brand."
Indianapolis Fire Department is now using Toughpad FZ-G1 tablets as well as Toughbook 31 and Toughbook 53 laptops. Roughly 160 department vehicles have a Toughbook or Toughpad device inside.
"Our deployment experience was seamless," said Captain Rolfson. "The reliability increased tremendously just by transitioning from the old consumer device to the rugged Toughbook and Toughpad devices."
Originally the Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets were used solely for mobile data computing. data computing. Firefighters use the devices to get their CAD (computer aided dispatch) information safely and securely across the network. This information allows responders to see addresses, hazard information, notification of shots fired, or other sensitive information a responder needs but may not want to say over the radio. Now the devices are used in the field, in the office and mounted in emergency vehicles.
Earlier this year, the department transitioned the entire fire prevention department to Toughpad FZ-G1 tablets. Workers use a software program called "Mobile-Eyes" to conduct building inspections. Mobile-Eyes allows them to go out in the field, conduct an inspection, cite violations and provide an email copy of the report to the business owners/business occupants in real time.
"Fire prevention absolutely loves their Toughpad tablets. It's been a great tool and really increases productivity on the job. They are actually able to communicate directly with the database in the cloud versus downloading the files and other inspection data they need. Now instead of going out in the field, doing the inspections, then coming back to the office and uploading the information, they can just access the database live and take care of inspections."
The Toughpad tablets provided enormous cost saving benefits as well.
"Fire prevention absolutely love their Toughpad tablets in the office and out in the field. They have an external keyboard, external monitor and network line at their desk so they are connected to the city's data network and also have a vehicle charger in case they are in the field and need their battery charged. We saw big savings when we transitioned to tablets. We didn't have to assign a mobile device and a desktop device to each individual, now we just use the Toughpad tablet for everything."
In addition, the department also utilizes Toughbook laptops. About three years ago, Indianapolis Fire Department started using fully-rugged Toughbook 31 laptops, and has since moved to semi-rugged Toughbook 53 laptops.
"We decided to make the switch to semi-rugged since we are mounting our laptops in-vehicle. We are testing the semi-rugged Toughbook 54 laptops now and really like them – we plan to add those to our vehicles in the near future."
While the department didn't need the fully-rugged features, Captain Rolfson knew that they could not rely on a consumer-grade device alone.
"There is a lot of banging around in the fire apparatus vehicles. They don't have the suspension you would have in a police vehicle or a regular car," he said.
In addition to bumps and vibrations, the devices are subjected to extreme temperatures as they stay mounted in the vehicle throughout the day. A responder may be answering an incident and leave the device in the car for hours.
"If you are using a consumer device that will sit on your car's dashboard for several hours in the hot sun, it will go into thermal shutdown mode," said Captain Rolfson. "These devices can be stored in 90 or even 100 degree weather in the summertime to negative 10 degrees in the winter. Not to mention when our workers are on the scene of a fire, there's dust, smoke, bi-products of combustion and when there are fans blowing–debris is going to be pulled into the devices. Those elements have not been an issue for our tablets and laptops at all."
Fire departments respond to calls day and night in all types of environments, and need technology that can function when it matters most.
"One of our vehicles was in a serious collision and the vehicle was totaled. The impact was on the officer side of the vehicle, where the device was mounted. The back of the cab was completely crushed/caved in, windshield was completely broken, but the Panasonic device survived no problem."
Beyond durability, the department considered several other device features as well. Software compatibility, for example, is critical for large department like Indianapolis. The touchscreen was also a valuable feature for the firefighters, allowing them to hit their service buttons on screen rather than a keyboard. Indianapolis also invested in Havis docking station mounts for additional security.
"We go into some rough neighborhoods and there is always fear of having equipment stolen while the firefighters are inside fighting a fire or handling an emergency medical run. When something happens, it usually happens when no one's at the vehicle. With the Havis mount, we can lock down the device and there's no way for it to be removed."
When asked about the advice he would give to a department evaluating a mobility deployment, Captain Rolfson said, "Do your research. Make sure that you understand the environment that you are using the product. I considered consumer-grade devices. It's a cheaper solution up front but it's not going to work the way you need it to work over the long term. I spent two years researching products before making the decision to invest in Panasonic and couldn't be happier with my choice."