This mobile app will change how Philly firefighters protect the city - Philly


Oct. 31, 2013 12:30 pm

This mobile app will change how Philly firefighters protect the city

Built by the city's mapping staff, the app gives firefighters access to real-time data that was previously not available on-the-go.

Members of Engine 38 push a fire truck inside their new station. Photo by Kait Privitera for the City of Philadelphia.

A new internal mobile app that gives Philadelphia’s firefighters access to real-time data will change how they protect the city, Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said, and it will hopefully help protect them, too.

“The first line of defense is not the hose line,” Ayers said: it’s all the information about a fire and its surroundings.

When firefighters access the city-built app on the computers inside their fire trucks, they’ll be able to see:

  • 3D and aerial images of the building in question, plus the surrounding neighborhood, which can help them decide how to attack the fire.
  • if the building in question has received any violations (Did the city mark it imminently dangerous? Is it scheduled for demolition?)
  • the locations of other fire trucks around the city, since each of them are GPS-enabled
  • where the nearby fire hydrants and water mains are located, which can help them decide which hydrants to use when fighting the fire
fire dept app

The new Fire Department mobile app offers oblique images of buildings.

Previously, firefighters had access to this data, pulled from many city sources, but it wasn’t all available in one place and it wasn’t immediately accessible. Firefighters would have to call the fire communications office to get certain kinds of information.

“This is the first app that takes [the data] off the desktop and onto the mobile device,” said Kevin Thomas, the Police Department’s director of research and analysis who helped build the app.

Aside from helping firefighters in the field, the app will be useful in training and creating on-site strategy, Ayers said. He also believes it will help keep firefighters safe, a comment that carries weight, given the tragic deaths of three firefighters since 2012.

fire dept app 2

In another view of the app, firefighters can see hydrants, city violations, current locations of other fire trucks and more.

The app launched last week to one battalion of firefighters, who will beta-test it and provide feedback to the developers who built the tool. Since city developers built the app, they’ll be able to tailor it to the feedback they receive, Thomas said.


The creation of the app is also a testament to the city’s data and its accessibility, at least internally. The app uses data from sources like Licenses & Inspections and the Water Department, as well as the city’s aerial and oblique images of Philadelphia.

Thomas built the tool with Paul Woodruff, the city developer behind the fire hydrant app that helps get fire hydrants fixed one week faster.

Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes became's associate editor after reporting on the Philadelphia tech scene for four years. She's co-president of the Asian American Journalists Association Philadelphia chapter and a two-time Philadelphia News Award winner for "Community Reporting of the Year." The Bryn Mawr College grad lives in West Philly, likes her food spicy and wears jumpsuits often.

  • I would hope it becomes easier for more public safety agencies to have mobile access to the ever increasing wealth of geo data. If all the data end points would be open sourced, the cost to create portable resources would financially approachable for all jurisdictions.

    Placing interactive preliminary action plans, with current data in the right hands (and pray it’s never needed) should be a goal for all office holders.

    #GeoData #PublicSafety


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