Four FDNY firefighters recently launched ManDown, a personnel-tracking mobile app for smartphones. ManDown sends automatic emergency alerts via text, e-mail and voice messages to a person's contact list.
The ManDown app is named for an emergency situation when there is a man down — when a firefighter is missing, trapped or injured inside a burning building, said Tom Watson, founding partner of ManDown. Watson said personnel felt there was a need for an accountability app to improve firefighter safety at an incident scene. The Holy Grail was a technology that could track firefighters indoors, he said — especially when localized audible PASS alarms fail or when firefighters are knocked unconscious and unable to radio a mayday call.
"Besides an audible alarm the PASS sends out code, but it won't penetrate a brick wall or go around corners," he said about the technology's limitations. "You almost have to be in direct line of site to pick up the code."
Run over the cellular network, the ManDown app sends out immediate alerts to a user's preprogrammed contact list with his or her name and location, which makes it easier to find firefighters and save lives, Watson said. For example, the mobile app has an automatic personal safety GPS tracker. When the user presses the activate button on the app, the phone will monitor the user's movements. If the user's phone is motionless for longer than 30 seconds, a pre-alert will go off. If the user is motionless for a minute, emergency alerts will be issued, notifying people of their name and GPS map location of their phone.
"When I go to work, I activate the app and it just runs in the background," he added.
In addition to the automatic motion-sensitive monitoring, the app also gives users the option to proactively press the "SOS" button to send an immediate alert, unrelated to lack of mobility.
However, a cell phone in itself isn't ruggedized enough to survive the harsh fireground environment. Watson recommended users running the app to use OtterBox ruggedized cases or ruggedized phones place in interior pockets protected by turnout gear.
"I've had my iPhone with my on many fires and with the ruggedized cases and turnout gear, I've had no problems," he said.
In the civilian world, the app can be helpful as a type of medical alert system for senior citizens living alone, people who have mobility issues or health problems, or as a personal safety app for parents to buy for their children, Watson said.