How to achieve fire apparatus connectivity

Eight questions to ask to ensure the router fire departments choose offers the functionality and connectivity they need to connect apparatus to the cloud


When I began my fire service career in 1982, the cab of the engine I was assigned to had a bookcase that was stocked with all sorts of reference materials for the fire officer to use while responding to an emergency incident:

It was a great deal of useful information, though not very accessible or useable from the officer’s seat in a cab-forward Mack fire truck.

Firefighting has become safer because of technologies like personnel accountability systems and incident command systems that can provide the incident commander with real-time information on all aspects the operation, from initial dispatch of the first engine to the completed demobilization. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)
Firefighting has become safer because of technologies like personnel accountability systems and incident command systems that can provide the incident commander with real-time information on all aspects the operation, from initial dispatch of the first engine to the completed demobilization. (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

Incident command meets the paperless evolution

For many fire departments today, that bookcase has been replaced by an on-board computer or tablet that puts all that information – and many times more – at the officer’s fingertips.

Computing technology and software programs and applications specifically designed for in-field use by fire officers and firefighters (e.g., building pre-fire plans, SARA Title III hazmat storage reports) have helped many fire departments to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in their operations.

Firefighting has become safer because of technologies like personnel accountability systems and incident command systems that can provide the incident commander with real-time information on all aspects the operation, from initial dispatch of the first engine to the completed demobilization.

Fire apparatus connectivity

Call the above Fire Service Information Technology 1.0, but today, fire department apparatus, vehicles and mobile command centers have evolved into mobile field communications hubs. When properly equipped, users can access mission-critical applications and the Internet from anywhere, and that keeps data flowing to the cloud from on-board telemetry, drones, thermal imaging cameras and surveillance cameras.

However, connecting your fire apparatus to the cloud is only the first part of Fire Service Information Technology 2.0. The other part is your ability to be mobile and connected to other emergency response units through a seamless system. In-vehicle connectivity is a critical part of the mission.

Today’s fire departments need a high-performance mobile router solution that securely connects every response asset to those mission-critical applications (PAS and ICS) and to each other.

That same connectivity can connect every vehicle in a fire department’s fleet to fleet management software that can track preventative maintenance and provide early warning of impending apparatus performance issues before they disable a vehicle.  

Making that connectivity purchase

Here are eight things to look for when making your router purchase for your fire department.

  1. Can it support a minimum of two 4G LTE modems?
  2. Does it have a multi-port Ethernet switch, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, GPS, and ports for ignition and sensor integration?
  3. Can its operating system software provide advanced routing, SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) for LTE, and security functionality? Traditional WANs can be complex and inflexible; according to conventional wisdom, they often prevent business agility. The SD-WAN has emerged to address such limitations. SD-WANs are revolutionizing the mobile connectivity market and an SD-WAN is one of the key elements that can enable your fire department to deploy more mobile workers, with access to more applications and resources in the cloud, and connectivity everywhere you need it.
  4. How does the router and its OS provide Internet security and web filtering? Many mobile networks require strong Internet security for on-board public Wi-Fi and cloud application access.
  5. How easy is it to configure, orchestrate and manage the router remotely from the cloud?
  6. Can it provide a perimeter-secured and encrypted cloud network from any Internet connection so that mobile devices (e.g., laptops and tablets) and mobile Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices (e.g., cameras, thermal imaging cameras, sensors, and drones) are protected?
  7. Does it have cloud management that’s optimized for LTE?
  8. Can the fire department configure the router for each specific deployment? How easily can the department expand a vehicle’s capabilities as uptime or connectivity needs change?

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