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Apple draws on knowledge of firefighters
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When Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Administrative Battalion Chief Larry Madoski called Apple to help troubleshoot a problem that he was having with an iPad, he was just hoping for help with the iPad.
The iPads are used to provide firefighters responding to emergencies with quick access to hazardous materials, building layouts, and other information they may have on file to a location they are responding to as well as receiving typed information from dispatch. They also access maps, hydrant locations, and other information critical to helping produce the best outcomes in emergencies.
In making the call, Madoski didn’t think he would soon be talking to one of the biggest technology companies in the world about how their products, and technology in general, is allowing those in the fire service to provide better, more responsive service to the residents within their jurisdiction.
But that is exactly what happened.
Last month Madoski received an invitation in the mail from the Silicon Valley tech giant requesting the agency’s presence at an upcoming firefighter-only Apple event to allow the company to better understand how their products are being used by people who deal with life-or-death situations on a regular basis.
It was a surreal experience for the man who came up with the idea to replace the district’s aging rig-mounted computer systems with Apple’s state-of-the-art 12.9-inch tablets in order to allow for greater flexibility, and one that he hopes will allow the company to continue to deliver quality products that allow small independent agencies like Lathrop-Manteca to remain on the cutting edge for the betterment of the people they serve.
Just don’t expect to hear him bragging about all of technology that they’ve implemented anytime soon.
“It is important to note that the LMFD isn’t just about Apple or iPads, it’s really about a culture of innovation and how we can do things better, cheaper, faster and more efficient,” Madoski said of the mindset that has propelled the agency to become more technologically advanced. “We used to manually enter vacation and other leave accrual – we used to use Excel for our posture and our staffing. Our firefighters and our administration came together for that solution as well.
“We switched to an automated system similar to other platforms at a fraction of the cost, and this saved out administrative personnel over 20 hours every month, for about $3,000 annually.”
According to Madoski, the idea to purchase 14 handheld tablets – designed with the computing strength of a standard laptop –  was met with hesitation by others in the fire service that only saw all of the ways that the forward-thinking idea would fail. Some thought that they wouldn’t be sturdy enough, while others believed that the Central Valley would render them inoperable when temperatures inside of the engines got to a certain point – nullifying any convenience that they might afford.
“At that time, we were really pioneering open waters,” Madoski said. “I remember people at the time thought we were crazy, saying that the heat would shut them down or that they didn’t have enough storage space – and while those are legitimate concerns, we haven’t seen any of those issues.
“What we have seen are more and more agencies that are switching to this same platform.”
A much cheaper option than the $2,000 mobile computers that were previously in use, the iPad Pro models that are in use allow for not only portability, but also the capability of running firefighter-specific applications dealing with hazardous material identification, real time weather updates that can affect a hazardous material response, and even an application that allows responders in the field to see all of the notes as they are being typed in by a dispatcher for a specific call. The tablets also show the nearest fire hydrants to a given location, nearby streets, and pre-incident plans that are all available within a few finger strokes. Plans are also in the works to use the tablets to replace the standard firefighters map books, which quickly become outdates in communities that are growing rapidly, like Lathrop and Manteca are, and don’t stand up to the rigors of field-use nearly as well as the tablets have.
Madoski said he isn’t sure what to expect from the Apple event, which will take place later this month, but noted that he’s happy that the district has a Fire Chief like Gene Neely that supports these technological advancements that only make the district more efficient as they undergo their own period of growth in order to provide a quality level of service to the growing community.
“Right now, employees no longer have to make phone calls to fill overtime, and instead a scheduling program they can access remotely automates the process,” he said. “I’m really hoping that we can replace the maps because they take up space, get torn, and waste paper because we are growing so fast and new maps constantly need to be printed. There’s no reason that this stuff couldn’t be linked to a large TV screen linked to the dispatch center.
“I am very fortunate that we have a fire chief that supports these ideas.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.