The Definitive Fire and EMS Laptops Buying Guide

Reliable communication and convenient access to critical data is an absolute necessity for fire and EMS workers. When time is of the essence, dependable exchange of information between dispatchers and first responders makes the difference between loss of property—and more importantly—between life and death.

This guide will help you cover the all the bases needed to select the best fire and EMS laptops for your department. It will describe how devices must stand up under harsh, unpredictable conditions, effectively display locations of vehicles and responders, and quickly collect and compile important data for use in routine and critical operations.

When selecting a fire and EMS laptop, consider the following key areas of functionality in order to guarantee the best solution possible:

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Performance and Response

Quick access to the very best communication and emergency technology is a prime requirement enabling fire and EMS workers to work safely and effectively.  When purchasing laptops for your department consider the following features related to laptop performance and response:

  • Access to data via cell networks. Dependence upon a single 3G cellular network can be inconvenient and even risky. Identify which systems should be accessed and then determine whether 3g or broadband access will provide the needed connectivity.

    For example, responders in the field need constant connection to their dispatchers and fellow workers. Features like Gobi can make different 3g carriers accessible in the event regular carriers are not available, as in the case of weather events, natural disasters or terrorism. 
  • Interface and Integration Capabilities. Determine whether third party equipment or applications will be used.  Check out interface capabilities for your specific applications including:
    • Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) capability
    •  ePCR software
    • Cameras
    • Phones 
  • Dual processors for high performance. Sluggish performance is unacceptable during an emergency response. When workers require access to their CAD or ePCR, while at the same time utilizing communication software, dual processors facilitate efficient execution of programs and multitasking.

    Be sure to ask for dual processors that execute well, but consume the smallest amount of power possible. Fire personnel often spend many hours at a given site. 
  • Expandable memory to speed up processing time. Determine memory needs based on the applications that will be running.  Processing time is a crucial factor in urgent situations. The laptop chosen may have plenty of RAM for now, but determine if the memory is expandable in case new applications are added later. 
  • Battery operation. Fire fighters need battery power that will last through the hours it takes to bring an emergency situation to its conclusion. Hot-swappable options can be the answer to long-lasting performance. For fire workers who want long-lasting performance, the Ultra-Mobile Toughbook U1 provides full-shift productivity in an extremely shock and weather resistant device.

Integration and Connectivity with Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) capability, and/or ePCR software

CAD software is designed to manage resources for various public response agencies, including fire and EMS personnel. CAD speeds up the dispatch process by enabling rapid data entry and managing the prioritization of calls. Many systems feature integrated map functionality as well.

For EMS workers, ePCR software may be integrated with or separate from the CAD solution.  ePCR software facilitates patient care reporting along with rapid access to medical information and treatment protocols. The software may also interconnect with medical devices such as EKG machines.

CAD and ePCR are becoming essential tools for most cities and communities. Therefore, when selecting fire and EMS laptops:

  • Be certain that full laptop integration to CAD and ePCR is available.
  • Verify that the application integration is demonstrably working for other fire and EMS departments.

Castle Rock Fire and Rescue Department in Colorado is only one of many satisfied users of the fully-rugged Toughbook 31 equipped with HIPAA-compliant ePCR software. Their recent upgrade allows them to transmit EKG data while spending significantly less time on paperwork.

GPS Capability

Most fire and EMS departments are using GPS to quickly route responders to the correct locations. Many are taking this technology to the next level through integration with the laptop and with CAD and ePCR software.  Therefore:

  • Determine if the laptop is capable of expedited GPS routing to emergency locations.
  • Look for integrated GPS capability rather than the time-consuming dependence on separate, non-integrated devices. Not only does integrated GPS save time, it increases the safety of workers through its ease of use in the vehicle.

Ease of use turns into effortless use when GPS is integrated with the CAD and/or EPCR.  So again, look for examples of other departments that are successfully using GPS that is not only integrated with the laptop, but integrated with the dispatching and medical solutions.

Durability

During an emergency response fire and EMS workers must have durable laptops or pads that will continue to communicate reliably despite punishing treatment.

  • Continual connectivity while in motion.  Determine whether the computer will resist vibration and shocks on the road while maintaining connection with the station or hospital. Fire trucks provide notoriously rough rides while emergency vehicles and ambulances travel at high rates of speed, often swerving and stopping and starting abruptly. Insist on features such as shock mounted hard drives, solid state drives when needed, and protective casings. In addition, ask for the proper laptop mounts for your particular type of fire truck, ambulance or emergency vehicle. 
  • Check out adherence to military standards such as MIL-STD-810G and IP ratings.  These standards, required by all branches of the U.S. armed forces, guarantee the durability levels that are needed during the life and death challenges facing fire and EMS workers every day. 
  • Given the toxic environments regularly experienced by fire personnel, it is a good idea to note the laptop’s IP rating.  This rating indicates the device’s level of water and dust resistance. Particles of smoke and debris emitted during a fire, as well as rain and blowing water during weather-related events can quickly disable commercial-grade laptops.

To obtain an idea of the durability of Toughbooks for fire and EMS, check out the following tests.  In these challenging trials, the lab used stringent benchmarks establish the computer’s ability to withstand the most extreme conditions including:

Ease of Use and Accessibility

Fire and EMS personnel are mobile workers. While enroute to their destinations they must travel at high rates of speed while communicating with dispatch to prepare for the on-site response.  Therefore, ease of use and accessibility to the laptop are necessary features.

  • Appropriate mounting system. Mounting solutions for fire truck and ambulances should allow for safe deployment of airbags and ease of access. The type of mount will depend on the make and model of the vehicle and may be available in both console or pedestal systems. 
  • Screen display.  Ambulances weave through city traffic or scream down the highways at all times of the day and night. Insist upon nighttime and direct sunlight viewing conditions with high definition and generous screen size.

    For fire fighters, look for a device that is safe and easy to use on the rough, bumpy ride as well as at the scene of the fire or other emergency. For these workers, screens may be especially vulnerable.

    Fully-rugged laptops should be considered to reduce the chance of breakage. The Toughbook CF-31 is a good example of a durable, hard working laptop that can take punishment while providing high-quality viewing with its anti-reflective and anti-glare screen treatments. 
  • Touch screen and touchpad.  An oversized, electrostatic, (allows scrolling) touchpad, with multi-touch (tap, pinch to zoom, and paging) are important features to have for EMS and ambulance workers. The ability to use a stylus for digital input should also be an option.

    For EMS workers, the Ultra-Mobile-Rugged Toughbook H1 has become a favorite in the medical field. This preference is not only for its touch screen technology, but for its security features, light weight, and embedded wireless capability. This state of the art Mobile Clinical Assistant is also designed for ease of sanitization. 
  • Swivel screen. In ambulances or in the cab of a fire truck, a swivel display may be a useful feature to make the laptop useful to the driver as well as the passenger. A swivel mount will also provide dual viewing capability. Check out the capabilities of the fully rugged Toughbook CF-19. 
  • Weight. When riding in or on a fire truck or carrying a device around at the site of a fire, consider weight as a factor in selecting a laptop.  A lightweight convertible tablet PC such as the fully rugged CF-19 may be an option for both fire and EMS use. 
  • Ergonomic features. Firefighters are on their feet for long periods of time. Ask for features such as a shoulder strap with elasticity and dome support for the palm of the hand. 
  • Safety and convenience.  Ambulance and EMS workers may need to carry their laptops or pads to the patient at the site of the emergency.

Because they often transport an array of medical equipment to the patient’s side as well, built-in or detachable laptop handles similar to those on the fully-rugged Toughbook CF-19 can be useful.

Privacy and Security

EMS workers deal first hand with protected medical information. Because they are governed by HIPAA privacy and security regulations, data on the rugged laptop as well as data being transmitted must remain safe and secure at all times. Panasonic Toughbooks are recognized by leading hospitals for their ability to safely store and transmit patient information.

  • Trusted platform module (TPM) security chip. This hardware authenticates passwords, encryption keys, and digital certificates.
  • Theft protection agent in the bios. Although it is recommended to avoid storing patient data on hard drives, this theft-protection feature will help recover data due to lost or stolen laptops.
  • Cable lock slot. The ability to lock the laptop with rubberized metal cable is a barrier against theft.
  • Password security.  Any laptop user working with patient data, such as EMS personnel, should be using a laptop that is password-secured at the device level.
  • Fingerprint scanner. For quick, secure login, biometric security measures are often required by medical facilities. Look for options such as fingerprint scanners.
  • Optical disc storage.  A city or organization’s privacy and security policies may or may not allow optical storage such as CD and DVD drives. Understand these requirements ahead of time before you buy. If it is possible you will need this feature, be sure to determine its availability.
  • FIPS 140 compliance.  Levels within FIPS 140 specify degrees of tamper evidence or resistance as well as modes of user authentication. Some EMS departments may require compliance. Check into your policies before purchasing.

Custom Configuration

Every fire and EMS department is regulated by its own operational policies.  This means that your particular configuration option may be different to some degree than departments in other states, cities or counties.  Therefore customization options are important when purchasing fire and EMS laptops.

Policies, makes and models of vehicles, and operational standards are often different from organization to organization.  Be sure that you can configure your laptop or tablet so that it will function efficiently for your department’s unique needs.

Support

The moment you purchase a Toughbook you’re ahead of the game. The overall industry failure rate for laptops, according to PC Magazine in 2011, is 15 percent, while Panasonic Toughbooks service records show an annual failure rate of only 2.4 percent.

So it goes without saying that Toughbooks are durable, high performing, and easy to use. But after the implementation and rollout are complete, quality service will keep your devices in top condition.

Added to the Toughbook’s exemplary record is free, 24x7, 365 day per year phone support, available everywhere as long as you own your Toughbook.

In addition, certified technicians are available for perform on-site service and can usually be at your location by the next business day in major metropolitan areas and can arrive within 2 – 3 business days at more rural or remote locations.

Where To Purchase A Panasonic Toughbook

BuyTough is an authorized an preferred Panasonic Toughbook dealer. We specialize in serving the needs of first responders, and currently offer exclusive discounts for Fire, EMS, Police, and other emergency personnel.

Call 1-877-532-8088 to find out more about how Toughbooks can work for your department.  

 

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