SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. - Since the first major firestorms of 2017, high technology has been improving tools for firefighters, who still mainly work on the ground and often with little information about how the overall fight is going.
Two Bay Area firefighters have developed an overall situation awareness application that other firefighters love — and say should spread to other departments.
Whether on an iPad or other tablet, the Bay-Area-developed "Tablet Command" system is nothing less than a technological game changer for firefighters, by firefighters.
Contra Costa County firefighters William Pidgeon, who is also a computer science expert, and Andy Bozzo, a working firefighter, used their real world experiences to come up with the Tablet Command software.
The software is now used by 265 fire departments across North America, and its user number is growing daily.
"I wasn't prepared to build a mission critical application. So we raised some money with friends and family, created a company and partnered with a software development company to develop the first version of the application," said Pidgeon.
The app is all about the situational awareness of the entire fire incident, offering information available to all incident commanders and first responders.
"The nice thing about this, it's on an iPad, which, for most departments, they can afford to purchase," said Chief Costa.
Before Tablet Command, laptop computer systems that did half as much were, at least, twice the cost. To this day, any departments still have only paper notes, paper maps and a radio, with little access to the big picture.
Two Sonoma County firefighters saw the software work while they were on mutual aid incidents, and they fought hard to bring it to the Bay Area.
"I was blown away. I was like, ‘Wow, we really need to bring this to Sonoma County,’" said Petaluma Fire Department Assistant Chief Chad Costa.
"It is, by far, hands down, one of the best technology tools I have ever utilized," added Sonoma Valley Fire Battalion Chief Spencer Andreis.
Tablet Command includes any area's fire history, all roads statewide (including back roads and fire roads), the location of every piece of equipment and thousands of cameras (including remote utility cameras), local fire weather and is infinitely expandable.
From the field, firefighters can input information in real time, dramatically speeding up and improving responses.
If there's any weakness to this system at all, it happens in remote areas where there's little or no Wi-Fi. But, with commercial, internet satellite Wi-Fi already on the market, that problem will likely be cleared up as well.