How can I set up barcodes / QR codes in PSTrax?

Note: This article mainly discusses using barcodes and QR codes within the equipment modules (PPE, SCBA, and Assets). We are in the midst of upgrading the barcoding functionality in the Supplies module to more easily track EMS supplies, station supplies, etc. We will update this article as new features become available.


Many organizations have asked about the ability to incorporate barcodes or QR codes into the PSTrax platform. This functionality exists, but we always caution that there are specific cases where barcodes / QRs make sense, but there are also cases where it can slow things down. Here are a few best practices & FAQs that we've gathered though the years:

How can I use barcodes to track equipment in PSTrax?

Barcodes and QR codes are a means of quickly identifying equipment so you can take action on it. For instance, you scan a barcode on an SCBA cylinder to log an air fill. Or you scan some station supplies to log a restock.  The scanning action is a way of searching for an item; it's no different than typing out the name, serial number, or other identifying information for the item. Here's how barcodes can be used within PSTrax:

What devices do you recommend?

We don't have a specific make/model of scanner that we recommend, but here's one that one of our clients said works "amazingly well". Based on feedback from our departments, most suggest buying an external reader that can link either via bluetooth or cable to a phone, tablet, or computer. There are a myriad of choices on Amazon or other websites for around $50 to $100. Bluetooth scanners are nice in that they are wireless, but the downside is that they often require that software be installed onto the device (or multiple devices) it's being used on. Readers that connect via cable are typically just plug and play, with minimal setup required, but they have to be plugged into the device. Many scanners function with both barcodes and QR codes, but some do not - so make sure you read through the list of features.

Can you use your phone or tablet's camera to scan barcodes?

Because PSTrax is web app - not a native app that's installed on each user's device - you can't use your device's camera to scan barcodes and QR codes by default. However, there are third-party apps that incorporate scanners on a users' phone or tablet. We've used one before called ScanKey and another called Scanner Keyboard, but there are others available in Apple's App Store or the Google Play Store (search for "barcode scanner keyboard"). 

Please note, though, that the process of logging multiple items with these apps may be cumbersome since you have to click into the barcode field, scan it, return to the page, click into the barcode field again, etc. for each piece of equipment you're checking. Though that may vary depending on the application you use.

How exactly does the interface work with a barcode scanner and PSTrax? Can I scan a piece of equipment and it will automatically populate in PSTrax in the correct module? 

Currently you can't scan an item and have PSTrax know which module that piece of equipment is in. Rather, you need to navigate to the appropriate module and then scan the item, which will pull it out of the list. From there, you can take appropriate action. For instance, you can navigate to the PPE Gear List, scan the barcode on a coat, and then determine what what want to do with that coat (log an event, set an alert, schedule a repair, take it out of service, retire it, etc.). 

For brand new equipment that has yet to be entered into PSTrax, can I scan the item and have the serial number, model, etc. appear in the proper fields in the proper module? 

No. When you scan an item, we don't have access to the manufacturer's database, which has all the information associated with that item (serial number, make, model, etc.). So there's not a way to scan, for instance, an SCBA pack and have all of the gear information automatically map to PSTrax's database. That being said, once the item has been input into PSTrax, it can be scanned and displayed within the system.

How are large organizations using the barcoding function?

Barcoding seems to make the most sense when you have a lot of items that need to be logged, not when you only have a few items here and there. We have large fire departments that scan turnout gear as its sent out for cleaning/inspection. While in the PPE Gear List, they'll scan the barcodes for all the gear that is getting sent out and then change the status in bulk to "Out for Cleaning" for all the selected gear. Once it's cleaned, they'll select the items, log a cleaning inspection in bulk and then change the status of the gear back to "In Service". We've seen the same done to log hydro testing on SCBA cylinders, flow testing on packs/masks, and inventory inspections for radios, TICs, and other high-dollar equipment. 

How can I generate QR codes and add it to our equipment?

There are programs out there that let you generate QR codes from URLs, text, emails, Twitter handles, etc. (see for an example). But as far as printing off the codes and adding them to a piece of equipment, we can only speak on what we've seen at other departments. Some will print off the code on a sticky label and affix it to the equipment; others will print it on paper and tape it; others will print it on paper and glue it with epoxy; others will buy QR labels from a vendor. It depends on how much abuse the label is going to take - which, in the case of some of your equipment, may be quite a lot. 
As far as PSTrax is concerned, the only thing we care about is that the QR code matches the ID # field on the Gear List. Essentially all a QR code is is a shorthand to a string of text/numbers (generally a long string). So instead of typing out IL897465731, you can just scan the QR and it will pull that information up. 
For what it's worth, if your asset ID number are going to be fairly short (2-5 characters), it may make just as much sense to label the equipment with the ID number (e.g. 0001, 0002, 0003, etc.) - rather than generating a QR code for each. But if the ID is long, a QR may make sense.