New app keeps city police, fire precincts at Chicagoans' fingertips

The Chicago Police and Fire App puts users in direct contact with officials

  • The Chicago Police and Fire App identifies local precincts and provides direct contact information to users.
The Chicago Police and Fire App identifies local precincts and provides… (Laura Kershaw )
October 17, 2013|By Courtney Griffin | RedEye

Even some 800 miles away, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jason Corbin couldn’t help but hear about Chicago’s struggles with increasing violence.

“On the East Coast we turn on the news and the first thing we hear about is Chicago,” said Corbin, 32, a native of Long Island.

As a firefighter and police officer, Corbin felt an obligation to keep the public safe, even if the distance between the two cities made it seem impossible. But as a self-proclaimed “tech guy,” he knew just the way to make it happen.

The Chicago Police and Fire App, co-created by Corbin and fellow New York native Laura Kershaw, allows users to locate their nearest firehouse and police precinct, in an effort to provide Chicagoans an alternative to 911 when dangerous situations arise.

“We’re not looking to replace 911,” said Kershaw, 32, a visual designer for the mobile app and resident of New York City for six years. “But there are a lot of times when someone can’t call 911. That’s when we can help.”

Corbin and Kershaw point out that there are many situations, from minor accidents to encounters with suspicious characters, where directly contacting a local police or fire precinct over the phone or in person can be more appropriate than dialing 911. The app gives users the direct phone numbers of local precincts—a contact that can come in handy when the 911 system has reached its capacity, as it often does in large-scale emergencies.

The first version of the app was released in New York City in February. Corbin got the idea for the New York version of the app nearly a year ago, in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, as he waited out the storm with a fellow Port Authority Police Officer.

“The port was shut down, and I was with my friend Richie, when he got a call that his house was flooding,” Corbin said. Richie’s home was located in the Breezy Point neighborhood in Queens, one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. “He got another call a few minutes later that his house was on fire, but he couldn’t get through to 911 because the system was overwhelmed.”

Corbin immediately got on the phone with his father, a fellow New York City firefighter, who put him in direct contact with the precinct nearest to Richie’s home. When Corbin finally spoke to the Breezy Point office, they had no idea that a fire had even started in the area.

“It got me thinking about what else happens when the 911 system gets overwhelmed,” Corbin said.

The Chicago Police and Fire App is $2.99, a cost that Kershaw says goes mostly toward local charities.

“We would love to be able to give this app for free, but we also feel very strongly in giving back to our local service men and women,” Kershaw said. She added that with each app purchased, she and Corbin intend to give as much back as possible to police, fire and hospital services in the Chicago.

As a resident of another big city, Kershaw said the Chicago Police and Fire App is ideal for city dwellers.

“For all of us, it’s just a good thing to have,” Kershaw said. “It just makes sense.”

For information, visit Chicago Police and Fire’s website at http://www.policeandfireapps.com/.

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