Heat sensor added to rescue tools | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Heat sensor added to rescue tools

It weighs 4.5 pounds, cost $9,800 and can be submerged in shallow water for about five minutes. A similar one was used to look for bodies at Ground Zero.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s a hand-held infrared camera purchased last month by Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District. More and more fire departments around the nation are buying them. The cameras seek out heat in dark or smoke-filled areas.

The camera displays only black and white. Black means cold, white means hot.

Tahoe-Douglas is the first fire department on the South Shore to get the camera. North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District at Incline Village purchased one more than a year ago. One of its capabilities is to find hidden fires.

“Before we rip into a wall we can take this and find where the hot spot is,” said Tahoe-Douglas Battalion Chief Rick Nicholson. “That saves the homeowner unneeded property damage.”

Tahoe-Douglas made use of its camera Feb. 1, when a Sport Utility Vehicle slid in the snow and rolled off the side of Kingsbury Grade. Firefighters went to Ansaldo Drive, but because of darkness, snow and cloud cover, they couldn’t spot the SUV.

With searchlights, they found the car on its hood in a snow-filled ravine about 20 feet off the grade. The driver was nowhere in sight. That’s where the infrared camera came in. It prevented an extensive search of the woods looking for the driver.

“We could see the person had been ejected from the vehicle and where he landed,” Nicholson said. “You could see a perfect outline of his body in the snow. We followed his footsteps and could tell he had gotten up and walked away from the scene.”

The driver hitched a ride and was later contacted by law enforcement at his home, up the road.

The heat produced by a human or pet also will show up in the hand-held camera if someone is trapped in a smoke-filled room. The camera also is effective in water rescues on Lake Tahoe because it can see about 200 feet It can be used to determine if a hazardous material has heat coming from it and to track electrical problems.

At the urging of Chief Tim Smith, Tahoe-Douglas began research work to buy the camera more than a year ago. The district considered buying a different model camera that cost $23,000. But they waited, and about four months ago Bullard came out with much cheaper model.

Nicholson said they are considering the purchase of a second camera because of the savings. But if another camera is purchased, the money likely would come from a grant.

All of South Shore should feel safer because of the new tool, Nicholson said.

“We are willing and able to respond to other agencies’ request for this,” he said. “There will be no hesitation whatsoever.”

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