Survey Says: Fire and Emergency Service Going Mobile

If you are reading this article on a mobile device, you’re not alone. In fact, each day more people are using their mobile devices as their primary source of communication. This is just one finding from a recent IAFC survey of mobile-device use among first responders.

Last month, the IAFC conducted a survey of members and nonmembers on their current and projected use of mobile devices—specifically smartphones, such as Android, Blackberry and iPhone, and tablets, such as Galaxy and iPad—in their positions as fire and emergency service responders.

The survey further segmented respondents by rank and age. The response rate was quite high, with nearly 3,000 individuals completing the survey, including over 2,100 chief and company officers.

Chart: Use of smartphones for internet use, video and appsThe use of smartphones is quite prevalent among first responders, with 84% reporting they currently have a phone and 71% of those without a smartphone planning to purchase one within the next six months. Moreover, the percentage of those with smartphones goes up the younger the person, to a high of 93.4% for ages 22-34 and 91% for ages 35-44. The same holds true for those planning to purchase a phone in the next six months: 75.4% for 22-34, compared with 32.7% for ages 45-54.

Respondents were also asked how important various applications are to effectively performing their jobs. A ranking of those applications found to be very important finds:

  • 75% - Receive/respond to email
  • 66% - Text messaging
  • 43% - GIS mapping and routing
  • 41% - Search information, such as SOPs and emergency-scene research
  • 33% - Read and receive news

Chart: Use of tablet devices for internet searches, video and appsTablets are also becoming more prevalent among first responders and they’re growing, though well behind the level of smartphone use. Currently, 24% of survey respondents have a tablet. That figure is consistent across both rank and age.

It should be noted that many respondents noted they already use or have access to equipment (such as laptops and mobile data terminals) that has functionality similar to what would be available on a tablet.

Looking at potential tablet purchases in the next six months, 22.4% of respondents indicated they were definitely or very likely to purchase a tablet. Among those definitely planning to purchase a tablet in that timeframe were fire marshals (14.9%), staff chief officers (11.1%), firefighters/EMT paramedics (10.8%), company officers (10.2%) and fire chiefs (9.8%).

These findings are likely a factor of age, as the two groups most likely to purchase a tablet are those age 35-44 (13.8%) and 22-34 (13.1%).

Similar to smartphone use, respondents were asked to rank the importance of using tablets for various applications relating to their work as first responders. The ranking of applications found to be very important finds:

  • 58% - Receive/respond to email 
  • 53% - Search information, such as SOPs and emergency-scene research
  • 51% - GIS mapping and routing
  • 39% - Real-time video to support emergency command operations
  • 37% - Incident reporting

So what can we conclude from these findings?

First, that just as in the general population, mobile devices are becoming more prevalent in the lives and work of first responders, particularly among younger generations. Moreover, the rate of deployment of such devices is expected to accelerate rapidly in the months and years ahead.

Already today, more mobile devices are sold than computers. This has wide-ranging implications across all aspects of the fire and emergency service, including incident command, training and operations, and communications both within the department and with the public.

Terry Monroe is the IAFC’s director of membership and external relations.

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