Thermal cameras keep first responders safe

Thermal imaging fights fires
Photo Source: MGN Online
Photo Source: MGN Online

GEORGETOWN, SC (WMBF) – When a fire breaks out, dense air, choking smoke and darkness can make it difficult for first responders to do their job, but now a device is helping firefighters work quickly, and gives them an added level of safety.

"These are high-def cameras," said Georgetown County Fire Rescue Division Chief Terry Skidmore. "They show us the heat that's hiding in the walls. It can help us locate victims inside the house."

Georgetown County Fire Rescue has 11 of these high definition thermal imaging cameras. Thermal imaging technology is nothing new, but what local firefighters were using before pales in comparison to the new equipment.

"This is about seven generations ahead of what we had in service," Skidmore said.

The thermal imaging cameras trace heat signatures, allowing firefighters to pinpoint where a fire is most intense before they even enter a home, allowing first responders to safely enter an area. These cameras have other uses as well.

"This is the same type of technology they used to catch the Boston bombing suspect," Division Chief Skidmore said.

Images have circulated from Massachusetts State Police of bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hiding in a boat. The images came from a thermal camera on top of a helicopter. Skidmore says generally images from thermal cameras are not that clear.

"You're not going to be able to see through a wall like X-ray vision," he said.

Division Chief Skidmore says the reason the images out of Watertown are so clear is because Tsarnaev was hiding under a thin tarp, allowing for a much more vivid image to bounce back to the camera. If it had been a wall or even a window, Skidmore says the images would not be that clear.

Copyright 2013 WMBF News. All rights reserved.