Technology helps save lives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2005

AHOSKIE – Picture a home with smoke billowing from nearly every exit. While no flames are yet visible, the potential lies within for a major catastrophe.

The occupants of the home flee for their lives, but while waiting for the rapid response of emergency crews, they fall into the grips of a horrific thought – a loved one remains trapped inside.

How will the firefighters, no matter how well trained to handle emergencies such as this, locate that person inside a home full of smoke?

In Hertford County, the chances of that person surviving such an ordeal are better than one would think. Two local fire departments – Ahoskie Rural and Union – now have a new life-saving tool at their disposal, a thermal imaging camera.

Everything around us gives off heat to some degree. This is made up of long wavelength infrared radiation, which is invisible to the human eye. Thermal imaging converts this radiation into a visible light picture that can be seen by using a sensor that converts the electronic signals. Those same signals can be used to measure temperature.

That technology can lead to saving lives.

&uot;This type of equipment can provide so many uses to a fire department,&uot; said Union VFD member Jim King. &uot;We can use it to quickly evaluate what could be a critical situation in a particular structure before sending in any firefighters. Then, once inside, the heat emitting from a person’s body, or even that of a family pet, can be detected and the point of origin pinpointed by this camera, even in a smoke-filled room.&uot;

King, along with Ahoskie Rural Fire Chief George Michael Bradley, went over some of the other ways a thermal imaging camera could prove valuable to a fire department. The device can locate fire or &uot;hot spots&uot; behind walls, detect overheating motors or electrical outlets and determine the level of propane gas within any type of above ground storage unit.

The camera is so sensitive, it will even track footprints left on a floor.

Another life-saving option could be put to use if a person wandered away from a nursing home or rest home. Again, by honing in on the heat emitting from the body of that person, they could be quickly located.

&uot;Hopefully, you’ll begin to see other fire departments using these devices just as they would their air packs or other types of safety equipment,&uot; noted King.

Bradley pointed out that the units were still a bit pricey (in the $10,000-$12,000 range), but, &uot;you can never put a price tag on a person’s life,&uot; he said.

&uot;This type of technology will be able to assist Hertford County citizens in so many ways,&uot; Bradley added.

The Union firemen acquired their camera through the use of a grant. In Ahoskie, money was obtained through the Rural Fire Department’s Board of Directors as well as from the Ahoskie Town Council.

There now are three thermal imaging cameras in Hertford County. The Sheriff’s Office has the other.