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Washington Voices

Fire officials will get iPads

Sat., March 30, 2013

Concern over public records requests cited as one reason

The Spokane Valley Fire Department is jumping into the tablet fray.

Department commissioners voted to fund the purchase of iPads for their own use, but repeatedly told staff to do it as cheaply as possible.

The department has three reasons for getting iPads for commissioners, said deputy chief Larry Rider during a followup interview.

First, it limits commissioners’ exposure to public records requests. Although they have department email addresses, there is concern that accessing those accounts on private computers opened those computers – and personal email accounts – to records requests, Rider said.

“We’re being told that’s discoverable through public requests,” he said.

Second, it will be a test run for technical staff. The department is considering purchasing iPads for paramedics. This is an opportunity to integrate Apple products and software into the department’s computer systems and work out the bugs, Rider said. One extra iPad will be purchased now for testing how paramedics could use them in the field. “There’s lots of applications out there for that,” Rider said.

The devices will also be useful for commissioners who attend City Council or other community meetings. “A board member will sit there and take notes and then come back and type them up,” Rider said. With the iPads they will be able to type their notes on site and simply email them later.

Rider asked commissioners to approve spending up to $10,000. In the follow-up interview, he said he believes he can do it for closer to $4,000 after incorporating commissioners’ suggestions.

“We’re looking for something simple,” commission chairman Kolby Hanson said, something to allow commissioners to check email and take notes.

The department should also purchase versions that don’t have a large number of gigabytes on the hard drive in order to save money, said commissioner Mike Pearson. “We don’t need a Cadillac,” he said.

All but one commissioner said they have wireless Internet at home and wouldn’t need a cellphone card for the device, which will save the department thousands of dollars.

Commissioners also questioned budgeting money for training to use the devices. Commissioner Joe Dawson said he recently purchased an iPad on his own. “It’s extremely user-friendly,” he said. “I can navigate pretty easily and I’m no computer wizard.”

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