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Camera touted as lifesaver

May 19, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Six months ago, the Martinsburg City Fire Department responded to a basement fire on Church Street. In the dark and smoky house, two firefighters passed by a man lying on the floor.

Luckily, a third firefighter literally stumbled into the man and got him to safety.

"It was so smoky, they just couldn't see him," said Capt. Brad Waldeck. "We're just lucky they found him as quickly as they did."

Searching for unconscious victims will no longer be a problem with a $25,000 infrared imaging camera purchased last month, which illuminates heat - from people, light fixtures or fire - in complete darkness.

The fire department demonstrated its latest piece of equipment Thursday night for the Martinsburg City Council, which paid for the camera.

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It is mounted on a helmet and fits over the eyes like binoculars, illuminating heated objects as bright white while other objects remain dark. The hotter the object, the brighter it is.

The camera also can find the source of a fire, reducing a firefighter's risk.

"For firefighters who go there and lay their lives on the line, I think the price is pretty cheap," said Councilman Oden L. Barrett.

Martinsburg City Fire Chief Phil Martin called it the best fire service equipment since the smoke detector.

"All these years we've been crawling around on our bellies trying to find people in buildings," Martin said. "This is going to cut the time probably by 80 percent."

The camera runs on a 30-minute rechargeable battery. The firefighter carries one spare. Three others remain in the truck.

By the time the firefighter uses the last battery, the others are recharged, Martin said.

"This piece of equipment is revolutionary as far as the fire service is concerned," Martin said.

The camera has other uses.

"Even for a lost child in the woods, if we can get above him we can look down and find him," Waldeck said.

The camera also could be useful to police trying to track a suspect at night, Waldeck said.

City Council members said they will consider purchasing a second camera next year.

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