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Tablet Computer vs. Ruggedized Laptop on Fire Engines

Good afternoon,

My department currently uses ruggedized laptops (MDC) in our fire apparatus and command vehicles.  They are linked via a cell air card to our dispatch center and a CAD interface to recieve CAD info and mapping.  We currently utilze General Dynamics XR-1's and GD8000s'.  These laptops range in cost from $4000 to $6500 each.  We are currently looking at replacing a significant number of units and are considering moving to a Windows based tablet computer at a signifant cost savings (approx. $800 to $1K each). 

My question to everyone is does your department utilize a tablet computer solution in a fire apparatus to run CAD and mapping software?  If so, have you experienced any issues related to wear and tear; heat, cold, vibration, water, etc.? 

On the surface, a tablet computer appears to be a good cost savings solution to replace our current laptops.  Touchscreen Windows based tablets with a solid state HD and minimum of 2 gigs will run our required software, so I have no concerns regarding the computer's capabilities.  My main concern is reliability of a tablet and how it will hold up on a fire apparatus in relation to a rugged laptop.  

Your input and feedback is appreciated. 



Andy Kellogg

Division Chief - Operations

Tracy Fire Dept.

Tracy, Ca. 

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I was hoping to see some input on your question as my dept is thinking this same way. I recently sat in a presentation by a company called Streetwise cadlink. Their system ran off of tablets which was my reason for attending. From what I gathered they have their tablets running on the apparatus in Mooresville, NC FD. I haven't reached out to Mooresville FD yet but it is on my to-do list. I'd rather hear from the members using it in the field then from a sales rep. I hope this is helpful.

Jim Smith

Ocean City, NJ FD

Thanks Jim,

I know there's a lot of departments considering a tablet solution out there but I haven't recieved too many responses.  We are trying to determine if we want to go to an application based tablet (iPad) or a Windows based tablet.  I'm waiting for our CAD vendor (Tri-Tech) to finish developlment of an iPad app before we make decision.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we don't have any more of our existing computers fail before we make a final decision. There are quite a few departments in San Francisco Bay Area currently using iPads but none of them use the same CAD as we do.  No real issues so far with the iPad in an engine except for the heat.  The iPad shuts itself off when exposed to temps over 90 degrees for a short time, so the iPad goes everywhere with them. 


I took a look at the Streetwise product. Looks like it might be a good solution.  Just wonder how it interfaces with a dispatch CAD and individual department's data and information.  Also, what else can it do?  Is it Windows, Apple, Google based? Internet access via an air card? Tech support, accessories, cases, vehicle mounts, specs, etc.???


This is an area the fire service as a whole has dropped the ball on.  My 13 year old daughter has more technology in her pants pocket then we have in our engines and command vehicles.  Something's wrong with that picture.  I hope as the Fire Service we can start expanding this conversation and realize the opportunities we have in front of us.   Sometimes I think we make it harder on ourselves than it has to be. 


As I learn more I'll try to post what I can to keep you and others updated.  Thanks for the reply, and I hope others will join in. 

We are using Panasonic tough books with tri tech. We have had them going on 5 years with very few problems.we do have some connectivity issue periodically but the computers are fire service worthy. We use windows based programs including our live roster application to maintain accountability.

Upon Googling "fire depts using tablets in apparatus" I found your post here as well as a more extensive one on a firehouse forum. Perhaps this can be helpful to you.

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