Fire Inspections Get High-Tech Upgrade with iPad App

By  Jessica Binns — April 14, 2011

Building and fire hydrant inspections are a necessary–but time-intensive–part of a fire marshal’s work life. Typically, fire professionals spend a considerable amount of time driving from business to business, filling out paper inspection forms and manually keying in that data back at the firehouse. But a new app from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Xerox company, aims to change that inefficient process.
Developed in conjunction with mobile application company Mutual Mobile, the FIREHOUSE Inspector (FHInspector) app for iPads is simple and easy to use. At the start of a session, the app displays a map with locations of all of the businesses that need to be inspected on any given day, with inspections prioritized by date and by location. Once on site, the app takes the inspector through a series of yes/no questions, with a touch-typed explanation required for any “no” responses. At the end of the inspection, the app prompts the owner of the business that’s being inspected to sign the inspection document–via finger on the iPad–and the fire inspector has the option to print or e-mail a copy of the report to the owner.  
Chad Walls, fire marshal for the City of White Oak, Texas, says he has been using the FHInspector app since March, and it has eliminated the cost of ordering paper forms. But what really matters is the increase in productivity. “Where I am now [in early April] in the inspection process is where I usually am in September or October,” he says. “In a month and a half, I’ve done about nine months’ worth of work.”
Previously, on a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday, Walls would wrap up field inspections around 2:30 or 3 p.m. and head back to the firehouse to conduct data entry. That step is now completely eliminated. Walls notes that he prefers using a stylus with the iPad, citing the “awkwardness” of signing reports with his finger.
For Walls, fire hydrant inspection “season” is just around the corner in May and June. “I plan to load all of the hydrants’ location into the app, which will be tremendously helpful,” he explains. Before using FHInspector, the city’s fire chief would send out one of the volunteer firefighters with a handful of papers and forms to search for each hydrant. The app’s GPS mapping capabilities will significantly reduce the time spent hunting for each hydrant.
Although it doesn’t need a wireless connection to run–only a connection at the beginning of a session in order to download data into the app–Sanjay Kalasa, vice president of the emergency services group for ACS, says that having a cellular or Wi-Fi signal is useful, as data from the app is then automatically pushed to the server back at the firehouse. This is especially helpful in speeding up the billing process, as many cities charge for any fire code violations, which generates a steady stream of revenue. A signal is also necessary for GPS and mapping functionalities.
Kalasa says users have eagerly embraced the popular tablet. “It comes down to cost,” he says, with iPads significantly cheaper to replace than rugged devices. The company continuously seeks user feedback from the field regarding the device’s toughness. The iPad is semi-waterproof and when paired with an Otterbox case with metal edges and a shoulder strap, it becomes a highly portable, field-friendly tool. The FIREHOUSE Inspector app currently is being used by about 50-60 cities throughout the U.S.


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