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Eyes in the dark

New camera may help firefighters save lives

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 23/02) - A new piece of equipment is on the job at the Inuvik Fire Department that will help firefighters save lives and battle blazes.

NNSL photo

Volunteer firefighter Tye Barnes shows off the new piece of equipment that may save lives in Inuvik. The $35,000 thermal imaging camera will help firefighters "see" through smoke and darkness to find people and pets in fires. - Terry Halifax/NNSL photo

The Scott Eagle Imager II provides a video image of heat sources even through thick smoke and darkness.

Firefighter Tye Barnes said the manufacturer sent out a demonstration model and the department was so impressed they bought the unit.

"Our crew and our officers fell in love with it right away," Barnes said.

The firefighters association paid $35,000 for the unit and the department is the first in the NWT to have one.

"It will allow us to see through smoke and darkness to identify what's beyond," he said. "Be it a person or a fire situation, it gives us a real idea of the layout."

"It allows us to see what we couldn't see before," he added.

Using heat as an image source, the camera knocks precious time of search and rescue operations, but also provides firefighters a clearer vision of the danger that may be behind a closed door or a wall.

"If there is someone in a building, every second counts," he said. "The old way of doing it, is crawling along the ground and feeling the walls and searching -- that can take a long time."

"This allows us to use our eyes instead of our hands."

The unit uses a form of infrared imaging that provides a black and white video display on the unit, but also transmits to a remote monitor where the fire chief could also view the situation from outside.

"It simply sees radiant heat," he explains.

The resolution and definition shows the intensity and degree of heat emitted by anything in the viewing area.

The camera is powered by a battery used for hand-held radios. Barnes says it's now standard equipment with most fire departments and required at some.

"In some of the cities and major centres in the states, it's against union rules to go into a fire situation without one of these," he said."It's definitely one of the greatest achievements in search and rescue technology in recent years."

Barnes said the team has tested the unit in training exercises, but not at a real fire.