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Leesburg Get TIC

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  • Leesburg Get TIC

    Heat-reading cameras give firefighters 'eyes in a fire'

    By Jim Buynak | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted September 27, 2003

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    LEESBURG -- Area firefighters are finding that the heat of the battle can help win the war.

    New thermal-imaging camera technology enables rescue workers to see in pitch-black smoke, and the equipment already has proven valuable during a house fire earlier this week, Leesburg firefighters said.

    "It [the camera] helped us find the source of the fire immediately, and we were able to get the fire out in minutes," Lt. Walter Roenbeck said. "It also helped us determine that no one else was in the home."

    Thermal imaging gives firefighters the ability to see pictures from heat, or infrared radiation, according to Mine Safety Appliances, a Pittsburgh company that sells the equipment. All objects give off infrared radiation, according to the company Web site.

    The camera sees an infrared picture of an object and converts it to a black-and-white image on the camera monitor, enabling firefighters to see through smoke, in the dark and even through walls.

    Earlier this month, Leesburg bought two thermal-imaging cameras for $9,000 apiece, Chief Dennis Sargent said.

    "We just finished training with them last week," he said.

    When a call came in at 7:35 a.m. Tuesday, the firefighters found the Main Street home of Herbert and Linda Williams in flames.

    Linda Williams and her two young granddaughters were able to get out of the house before firefighters arrived, but it appeared the house would be lost.

    Roenbeck, however, entered the house and was able to quickly determine the source of the fire, and his colleagues were able to battle back the blaze in a hurry.

    The camera, which also displays a temperature, helps firefighters determine the danger.

    "We were pre-flashover when we went in," Roenbeck said of Tuesday's fire. While damage to the home was extensive, it was contained to two bedrooms, and the rest of the home was saved.

    After getting the fire out, the equipment helped Roenbeck look for "hot spots" in the walls or under the floor, he said.

    Sargent said thermal-imaging cameras and the self-contained breathing apparatus are the top two firefighting innovations in the past half-century.

    Thermal-imaging technology was developed by the military about 50 years ago, and advancements have made it affordable for agencies in smaller communities.

    Mount Dora, for example, bought a thermal-imaging camera in the 1990s for about $25,000, Chief John Jolliff said.

    Today that older model no longer works and is too costly to repair, even if the parts needed to fix it were easily available, he said.

    But, Jolliff added, his department is trying to get grants to get thermal-imaging cameras for each truck in his department.

    The Mount Dora chief agreed with his Leesburg counterpart that the cameras are vital in today's firefighting world.

    "It gives you eyes in a fire," he said.

    Tavares firefighters used a grant earlier this year to buy a $10,000 thermal-imaging camera, and Lake County firefighters have five.

    "It's great to know that area departments have them if we need them," Jolliff said. "But we still would like to have our own."

    Jim Buynak can be reached at [email protected] or 352-742-5917.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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