Seeing through the smoke

Heat vision: Worthwhile thermal imaging cameras can help firefighters reach victims.

April 25, 2001

SOMETIMES IT'S impossible to see through smoke. So imagine how frustrating it must be when a firefighter hears a screaming voice inside a burning building but isn't sure where the sound comes from. And every second counts.

Seeing through thick, dark smoke is possible now because fire departments around the nation are equipping themselves with cameras that detect fire and body heat.

Last year, the Annapolis Rotary Club donated one of the devices, a thermal-imaging camera, to the Annapolis Fire Department. Baltimore City plans to equip each of its six battalions with a thermal-imaging camera. And Baltimore County wants to buy 23 cameras -- one for every ladder truck.

This should be a lean budget year for jurisdictions in the region, but thermal imaging cameras are not frivolous kicks. They have enormous potential to save lives. Firefighters would be able to find victims and the source of blazes quickly, including hazardous small fires that hide inside walls.

In the future, thermal-imaging cameras are certain to become as standard on fire trucks as helmets and hoses.

The Baltimore County Council should approve County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's request to buy the cameras for the Fire Department, although they don't come cheap. Prices range from $9,000 to $25,000 per camera.

Mr. Ruppersberger wants to spend $206,000 for 23 thermal cameras. The county would lead the region in using the high-tech equipment, which has been labeled the biggest fire-fighting technology advance in 25 years.

Baltimore County and other jurisdictions should consider ways to jointly purchase these cameras for a better price. Thermal-imaging cameras are potential life-savers that the region can rally around.

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