Bay Area software hailed as a “revolutionary” firefighting tool is now in use across Sonoma County

During the deadly 2017 North Bay firestorm, Sonoma County fire officials were overwhelmed by the chaotic turn of events and did their best to manage resources, flip through paper maps and try to communicate over busy radio traffic while checking the whereabouts of their crews in the kept an eye.

At times, first responders felt “pretty helpless,” said Chad Costa, assistant fire chief for the Petaluma Fire Department.

The siege of catastrophic wildfires has continued almost unabated since then, and Sonoma County fire commanders quickly realized they needed to up their technology game, Costa said.

In 2020, Costa and Spencer Andreis, battalion chiefs in the Sonoma Valley Fire District, came across Tablet Command, an incident management and response software application founded by Bay Area firefighters. It’s the kind of all-in-one communication, mapping, and dispatching tool you’ve been looking for.

In 2021, Costa and Andreis led a project aimed at rolling out the software to all Sonoma County fire departments.

The software, now used by most firefighting equipment in the county, has changed the game, Costa said.

Firefighters can now see where their crews are on a map, assign resources, communicate, view incident locations and emergency call information, assign crews, upload evacuation and weather briefings, and more—all with the touch of an iPad screen.

The origins of the software

In 2007, Tablet Command founders William “Will” Pigeon and Andy Bozzo were relatively new to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District when tragedy struck.

Two firefighters in her department died on duty trying to rescue two people from a house fire. A year-long internal investigation found that a mishandled initial report led to delays and miscommunication, contributing to the deaths of firefighters. It also highlighted weaknesses in the department, including a lack of coordination and reliance on face-to-face communication.

Bozzo and Pigeon, who had some college computer science experience, began thinking about how They could improve field communications in their department.

Bozzo was sitting on the couch with Pigeon playing Words With Friends, a multiplayer word game app, and drew a “W” across the board. Then he had a revelation.

The idea of ​​putting a letter on the board that would be instantly seen by a random player thousands of miles away in Texas could easily be applied to the assignment of a fire engine, and the points could represent the number of personnel assigned to that vehicle.

“So he had this epiphany like, ‘Oh my God, yeah, why can’t we do this?'” Pigeon said.

The two got together and began sketching the idea on napkins and whiteboards, brainstorming, and raising money for at least a year. They launched the app in January 2013.

game changer

Nearly 10 years later, Tablet Command has over 18,000 EMT and firefighter “users” across North America, Pigeon said, referring to individual officers and locomotives. Over 200 of these devices are located in Sonoma County, 125 of which are mounted in engines, including the Santa Rosa Fire Department.

Their team of 17 at Tablet Command is constantly tweaking the app, Pigeon said.

It now often notifies firefighters of incidents faster than the station, he said. It also allows firefighters to easily view WildfireAlert cameras, work offline, and locate response teams across multiple state agencies.

For example, “fire chiefs came back from the fires (Caldor and Dixie) last year and said it was just revolutionary, it was like electricity,” Pigeon said.

In Sonoma County, the software has enabled agencies to add personalized map layers, including evacuation zones, burn scars, planned attack vectors, and containment areas.

Recalling the 2017 firestorm, Costa said, “There are many helpless moments when it just felt like there was nothing you could do.”

“That’s why we’re committed to improving ourselves and our departments, and sometimes, especially in today’s world, we use the technology tools that are out there to do that.”

Tablet Command has been a “great addition to our situational awareness, accountability and ability to be prepared rather than reactionary,” he added.

You can reach staff member Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On twitter @alana_minkler.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: