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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Thermal-image cameras placed through county

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Camera demonstration shows thermal activity. Camera demonstration shows thermal activity.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

MONROE - The Monroe County Firefighters Association reached a milestone last week in its fund-raising effort to put a lifesaving thermal-imaging camera in every fire station in the county.

The association, which is comprised of full-time and volunteer firefighters from 21 fire stations, donated its first five free cameras to departments across the county.

Every department in the county now either has one of the devices on hand or has an adjoining department with one that can be at any scene within a matter of minutes, Monroe Fire Department Capt. Kirk Heller said.

“Our immediate goal is still to get one for every department. There are eight left that don t yet have their own, and we re still trying to fill that need,” Captain Heller said.

The cameras use technology adapted from military applications to detect, interpret, and display differences in thermal activity within the air or within any solid mass.

With the cameras in hand, firefighters can find victims whom they may not otherwise be able to see and can identify hot spots in walls and ceilings that might escape detection unless they are touched.

Since their introduction into the firefighting service several years ago, the once-bulky camera systems have become a valuable tool to help save lives and fight fires, said Calvin Schmitt, fire inspector for the Monroe Charter Township Fire Department.

“We ve had one for between three or four years,” Mr. Schmitt said. “It comes in handy. It s become a pretty standard piece of equipment, so that when you go in for fire suppression, you take it with you.” Mr. Schmitt said his department hasn t had the opportunity yet to use its camera to find someone who might be trapped in a blaze. But he said he s confident the camera could do the job flawlessly. Several larger departments in the county, such as Monroe, Frenchtown Township, and Bedford Township, have purchased at least one of the cameras on their own.

Departments without their own thermal imaging camera are in South Rockwood, Estral Beach, Luna Pier, and Erie, Whiteford, LaSalle, Ash, and Exeter townships, Captain Heller said. Like most other technologically advanced devices, the cameras have quickly gotten smaller, cheaper, and easier-to-operate, Captain Heller said. So much so, that the Firefighters Association has lowered its fund-raising goal from $360,000 to about $120,000.

“They re lighter and smaller, although smaller is a little bit tougher because of the screen size. But you re not as arm weary,” Captain Heller said.

The association paid “less than $9,000 apiece” for each of the first five cameras. And although they passed up a few of the higher-tech options, they did pay extra for a lanyard on each of the units that hooks securely to the other equipment firefighters carry.

Captain Heller said that the fund drive s success in raising the first $50,000 should help with efforts to win private and public grant money to purchase the remaining cameras.



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