Antietam Fire Co. to buy helmet-mounted cameras

May 29, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

see the enlargement

Night Vision Goggles

Hagerstown's Antietam Fire Co. expects to be the first fire company in Washington County to buy a helmet-mounted camera that will help a firefighter to find victims in a pitch-black, smoke-filled room.

Fire officials hope the community will help them raise $60,000 to buy two more cameras for the Hagerstown Fire Department, said Robert Daveler, Antietam's special projects coordinator.

The fire company is waiting until late summer to buy the first $30,000 thermal camera because it could get a discount if it buys more than two, fire officials said. Having three cameras in the city would make them more accessible at fires, they said.


The difference between using the thermal camera and trying to find someone in a smoke-filled room by crawling around on hands and knees is "the difference between night and day," said Antietam Fire Capt. Jim Sprecher Jr.

Firefighters could go right by someone without knowing it while crawling around and feeling for someone, he said.

Sprecher was one of about 30 firefighters to use the thermal camera April 21 during a demonstration at the fire training grounds off Frederick Street.

Where a firefighter without the camera sees nothing but black, a firefighter with a camera sees white shapes where there is heat, fire officials said.

The heat source could be a victim or the fire, they said.

Using the camera could cut search and rescue from 50 percent to 70 percent once firefighters are trained, Daveler said.

The firefighter looks through a set of goggles to see the images, which are relayed from the camera attached to the helmet's side. The camera can be handed to another firefighter in 30 seconds and leaves the hands free, fire officials said.

Hagerstown is not the only city that would have this equipment in the Tri-State area.

Martinsburg, W.Va., got a helmet-mounted camera about five months ago and Franklin Fire Co. in Pennsylvania bought a hand-held camera a year ago.

The cameras also are expected to cut down on property damage, Daveler said. The camera can detect hot spots on walls and ceilings to determine whether firefighters need to tear down a wall, he said.

The cameras also could be used to find someone lost in the woods or in shallow water for a short time after the person went under, fire officials said.

Fire Chief Gary Hawbaker said the thermal cameras haven't become standard equipment because the technology wasn't ready for firefighting until recently and the cost was too high.

The city cannot afford to buy them because of the tight budget, he said.

Antietam Fire will use Washington County gaming funds and company funds to buy the first camera, Daveler said.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* " NATURALSIZEFLAG="0" ALIGN="BOTTOM"> To donate money to help Antietam Fire Co. buy two more thermal cameras can send tax-deductible donations to:

Antietam Fire Co. in care of First National Bank, Nicodemus Office, P.O. Box 419, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

Please note the donation is for the Special Projects Fund and include account number 8-000-000-1488991.

Call Robert Daveler at 301-223-5058 for more information.

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