Cradlepoint In-Vehicle Networking Helps Fire Department Deliver Better Service to Community
Success Story Highlights
Challenge — Caldwell Fire Department (CFD) needed always-on connectivity for access to its records management system for dispatch, mission-critical apps, and wireless devices. CFD had been using USB air cards in their MDTs (Mobile Data Terminals) for connectivity; however, the air cards frequently dropped connections.
Solution — CFD decided to upgrade its in-vehicle network by replacing the air cards with wireless LTE from Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for Mobile. The service includes the cloud-managed COR Series routers with integrated LTE, allowing CFD the peace of mind that it can rely on a constant network connection at all times.
Benefits — The always-on connection for its dispatch system now has constant access to vital apps, reliable GPS so firefighters know exactly where they need to be, and connectivity for wireless devices during emergencies. For additional support, Cradlepoint’s software, NetCloud Manager, delivers management of the entire network — remotely and from one location.
CFD has 12 to 15 trucks available at any given time to cover a 126-square mile district. It has 43 firemen in the department and one person who works on IT. It needed a networking solution that would work effectively and could be managed easily so communication between the county agencies is streamlined and connectivity is available 24x7.
Air Cards Causing Unreliable Connectivity — With the USB air cards, connections were dropped all the time and coverage was spotty.
“We run about 7,000 calls per year and on any given shift, we can average around 48 calls in 48 hours, there is no room for dropped connections or dispatch failure,” said Deputy Chief of Operations Steve Donahue for CFD.
There were also issues because the MiFi air cards were attached to the back of the MDTs mounted near the front windshield of the fire trucks. This was causing the heat and sunlight to melt the air cards in the MDTs — which are very expensive.
“It was a mess when these MiFis melted in an MDT. The air cards just weren’t meant to be in our trucks. They continually dropped connections and weren’t rugged or reliable,” DC Donahue said.
The lack of external antennas on a USB modem means that performance will never be optimal, and because they are not designed to work in remote locations, like Canyon County, CFD experienced dropped connectivity in dead zones all the time.
“We were looking for something with an outside mounted antenna that could give us that connectivity we needed, and Cradlepoint helped us achieve that,” said CFD Battalion Chief, Brad Carico.
Risk of Unavailable GPS & Mission-Critical Apps -- Today, many firefighters use and rely on GPS to direct them to an emergency. Also, all their training and mapping is digital, making always-on connectivity a requirement. The firefighters at CFD also count on a number of different apps that deliver data and information at their fingertips, which help them make safer and better decisions in critical moments.
Unreliable Connectivity Slowing Patient Care -- CFD uses wireless connectivity for computers or tablets to create Canyon County EMS (CCEMS) reports during emergencies. Not having this connectivity slows patient care and can be detrimental for critical patients.
CFD chose Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service for Mobile for constant access to mission-critical applications and the Internet from anywhere. This solution includes the NetCloud platform for cloud management, deployment, and software upgrades, a purpose-built in-vehicle router with embedded LTE, and 24x7 priority support for first responders.
This solution provides the network reliability necessary to keep mission-critical tools such as MDTs and CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) available and effective 24x7.
Reliable Connectivity for Life-Saving Systems
CFD now has a constant connection to Spillman, its records management system for dispatch, and has reported less complaints and incidents of troubleshooting since it began using Cradlepoint solutions.
“Before when we were using the air cards, we might be on a call during an emergency and it would cut out. With fewer issues, it’s definitely saving time not having to troubleshoot problems and get everyone connected again,” DC Donahue said.
Constant connectivity also allows CFD to monitor the Cradlepoint devices with GPS, using a program called Closest Unit. The CAD will look to see which vehicle at which unit is available and closest to the call and will assign that vehicle.
“I recommend any agency that is using air cards to try out Cradlepoint for even a week, they will see the difference and it will make a huge impact on operations,” DC Donahue said.
GPS for Access to Maps
Over time, the fire department has brought on new employees who might not be from the area and would not know how to get around quickly. In the past, firefighters needed to know the streets like the back of their hand — or use a paper map. Now, digital tools are expected and needed. First responders need to utilize GPS, maps, and applications that aid in their operations and help save lives in the communities they serve.
“As the younger generation takes over, they expect a level of technology deployment and support — and so does the community. Our department needed to upgrade our technology to not only create operational efficiencies but to ensure we were an attractive agency for future recruits and we set them up for success,” DC Donahue said.
Immediate Delivery of Patient Data for Faster Care
Always-on connectivity allows medics to use tablets to share patient information and images with physicians directly from an emergency scene before the patient arrives at the hospital. The ability to transfer patient information immediately to doctors awaiting a patient at the hospital not only speeds up the process of getting a patient checked in, but the doctors and nurses will know what the patient needs before arriving.
“The hospital becomes armed with the patient’s name and personal information as well as specific details and mechanism of injury. This is such a huge help and ultimately creates better outcomes for our patients,” DC Donahue said.
Network Management for Simple Configuration & Deployment
CFD, Caldwell Police Department (CPD), and CCEMS all use Cradlepoint solutions — including the cloud management software, NetCloud Manager — and the agencies work together on shared IT resources to manage these first responder networks lead by CDP.
"With such a lean IT staff, it is truly a team effort, and NetCloud Manager makes the process smooth and simple,” Battalion Chief Carico said.
Always-On Connectivity for Vital Applications
CFD uses apps in a variety of valuable ways that help it be more efficient, safe, and informed. One app it uses for hazardous materials allows firemen to quickly search through an index of dangerous materials, the hazards they pose, and the safety precautions recommended. Through the app, firemen can make the best decision based on the data available.
CFD also uses different online programs, for example one is called Cameo, which is a program that can map a cloud or plume of smoke for hazardous discharge.
CFD also carries publications, such as its Emergency Response Guidelines, in firefighter's smartphones as well as all of its standing orders for CCEMS in an app on the phones.
"Overall, Cradlepoint has been a really good product for us. It’s created that bridge to deliver a higher level of service to the community and operational efficiencies for the department. It’s a win-win,” DC Donahue said.