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Editorial: Cameras that save lives

July 02, 1998

It's pitch dark, the power is off and the room is filled with smoke. Despite the danger, a firefighter gropes in the darkness, using the only tool he has - his sense of touch - to locate anyone felled by the smoke before the dangerous gases produced by the fire prove fatal. In that situation, more than one firefighter has surely asked the question: Wouldn't it be great if there was some way to see through that smoke?

Now there is. It's a thermal camera that can be mounted on the front of a firefighter's helmet. It "sees" images of heat, which could be generated by a human body, or a hot spot where fire is about to break through a wall. In May, fire/rescue personnel estimated it could cut their search and rescue time inside a burning building by 50 to 70 percent.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there's a catch. The cameras cost $30,000 apiece, and there's no money in any local government budgets to add them now. Antietam Fire Company pledged to buy the first one, but a fund-raising mailing sent to 500 local professionals has yielded just $1,400 so far.

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However, a local business has stepped in to help. The operators of Bingo Island, located at 920 W. Washington St., have pledged to raise $30,000. Beginning tonight, the establishment will run an extra game each night, splitting the proceeds between the winner and the fund-raiser.

While that's going on, fire department officials would like to raise $60,000, since there's a discount for multiple purchases and because they believe having three cameras to share would allow complete coverage of the city.

The Herald-Mail recommends that you contribute, for two reasons. Firefighting is a dangerous job, and if a few dollars out of pocket will make it safer, that's the least anyone should do. But if that argument doesn't move you, consider the possibility that it's you there on the floor in the dark, clinging to life. Wouldn't you like to improve your odds of being rescued?

If so, send your contribution to Antietam Fire Company, Special Projects Fund, First National Bank, Nicodemus Branch, P.O. Box 419, Hagerstown, Md., 21741.

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