Not just a pricey toy: Thermal-imaging cameras can help firefighters save lives |

Not just a pricey toy: Thermal-imaging cameras can help firefighters save lives

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune South Lake Tahoe Fire Department Capt. Rick Myers is seen through one of the department's new thermal-imaging cameras. The cameras are able to highlight temperature differences of just 1 degree and can be used in a variety of capacities, from locating people to pinpointing hot spots in a fire.

Roughly three years since its inception, a donation fund dedicated to purchasing new technology for the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department has reached its first goal.

The fund, set up with the help of South Shore resident David Kelly, recently acquired enough money to buy a third thermal-imaging camera, heat-detecting devices that can greatly increase firefighting efficiency.

Donations to the fund bought all three cameras for the department, which now will have one at each station.

Kelly has enlisted the help of a litany of local service organizations and donors in the quest for the cameras, but a $10,000 donation by local business owners Bob and Tammi Hassett put the fund over the necessary mark.

Both Kelly and the Hassetts were honored by the city Feb. 12 for their contributions.

Each of the cameras, which can sense temperature differences of as little as one degree, costs about as much as the Hassetts’ donation.

“It’s a real versatile tool,” said fire Capt. Rick Myers.

Determining the number of ejected victims in a car crash by looking at the heat signatures left on the vehicle’s seats, or locating lost children who may be hiding from rescuers were a couple of the situations Myers used to highlight the camera’s flexibility, but it all boils down to speeding up searches by allowing firefighters to see what human eyes leave obscured.

The cameras already have been helpful to firefighters by helping them see through blindingly thick smoke and pinpointing the location of a fire within a structure.

The Hassetts recently witnessed the latter of these benefits firsthand, when city firefighters responded to the couple’s restaurant, The Fresh Ketch, early Christmas morning.

After firefighters found the restaurant’s heating, ventilating and cooling system pumping out smoke but were unable to determine the exact source of the fire, they used the camera to scan the space between the first and second floors.

Using the camera to find the hot spot in the crawl space, firefighters were able to put out the fire more quickly and with less damage to the building, said fire Capt. Jim Drennan.

But ultimately, it’s lives, not property, the cameras have been bought to save, according to Kelly.

“If it saves one child, one grandparent, if it saves me or you, it’s worth 10 times the amount of money we paid for it,” Kelly said Thursday.

Although the fire equipment fund’s first goal has been reached, donations to the fund still are being accepted so new technology can be quickly put in the hands of firefighters, Kelly said.

“It’s not over, you know,” he said.

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