By Travis Gulbrandson
Thanks to advances in technology, the Vermillion Fire Department is able to better respond to and deal with fire-related emergencies.
Through a variety of funding sources, the department has two new thermal cameras for use at the scene of a fire, and three iPads for its vehicles.
“We’re really making a big leap,” said Fire Chief Shannon Draper.
Local firefighters utilized this new equipment last Friday during a training session at the Ivan Pierce Fire Training Center, located across the road from the airport.
The thermal cameras – ISG E380s – were acquired in the past three months, and allow firefighters to enter a smoke-filled room and still be able to see with remarkable clarity.
The cameras show how hot the fire is burning, as well.
Capt. Matt Taggart said the cameras are very effective for what is called “salvage and overhaul.”
“After the bulk of the fire is knocked down, then we go in and check for hot spots,” he said. “It’s excellent for finding hot spots in walls, in ceilings, behind things, under big piles.
“As far as search and rescue, thank God I’ve never had to use it for that purpose. But it would certainly do a great job of doing that,” he said.
During Friday’s session, the firefighters entered the ground floor of the training center, where they came upon a closed door, behind which a fire was burning in a metallic fire pit.
They then entered the room and used the cameras to take readings on the fire during the various stages of its extinguishing.
“In a house fire, you cannot see your hand in front of your face, really,” Draper said. “With that camera, I can see right across the room, and I can see victims. If (firefighters) don’t have a camera with them, they’re taught to feel with their hands. You can imagine how long that would take. Time is so crucial, and so our goal is to put a camera on those other two trucks.”
Both cameras were purchased through tax dollars and an association to which the volunteers belong that has in the past bought fire trucks and other equipment for the department, Draper said.
The cameras were priced at $9,000 each, he said, pointing out that when thermal cameras were first released in the 1980s, they cost approximately $30,000.
The older cameras weren’t nearly as efficient, though – not even the ones made slightly more than a decade ago.
The Vermillion Fire Department previously had thermal cameras dating from 1999.
“The old ones were just black and white, and the contrast of the image was terrible on them,” Taggart said. “On these new ones … the clarity is just unbelievable as far as picking out objects and people, and the heat and all that.”
In addition, the old cameras could only be read by putting them directly up to your face.
“It was great for the time, but times have changed,” Draper said. “It’s the department’s goal to put a thermal camera on every main fire truck, so we have three engine companies and one ladder company, and I would like to see a camera on each one, because you don’t know which truck will get there first, or which crew will come across the victims.”
Members of the fire department are now also able to utilize three iPads when they go out on calls.
Purchased with grant funding from Wal-Mart, the iPads allow specific information to be pulled up immediately.
“The calls, the mapping for the calls, it shows us where to go, what units are responding,” Draper said. “It also pulls up weather and hazardous material information. It very easily brings everything right there into the vehicles. We didn’t have that stuff before.”
Previously, the firefighters had to rely on radio communication and printed information when going out on calls.
“Now I’ve got all of the pre-plans, which are a blueprint of a building that tells us the doors, the exits, where the utilities are at, any other pertinent information,” Draper said.
Additionally, the iPads provide a map that shows the address where the fire is happening.
“It makes it a lot easier, because before, I used to have to come into the station, get the address, look at the paper map that’s on the wall, try to figure out where we’re going, the best route, and then try to remember that,” Taggart said. “Then getting dressed, when all the commotion is going and getting in the truck.
“It was really easy to forget where you’re going,” he said. “Or with the rural addresses, they have such a numerical address, now I can just look at the iPad, and it pulls that information up for me.”
The iPads also utilize a program from IamResponding.com that shows how many firefighters are responding to an emergency.
“It would have our name and an estimate of how long it would take us to get to the station,” Taggart said. “So, as I’m sitting in the truck waiting, I could sit here and see (who’s) coming. That really helps with who’s going to drive, and at the same time, (it lets me) know who my experienced guys are in the back. Those are all things that I have to play out in my mind as we’re going to the scene.”
Taggart can use the iPads to make his report at the conclusion of an emergency, as well – a process that used to take place exclusively on paper.
“This iPad has been and will be a great asset through the course of my years left here,” he said.
Draper said both the iPads and the cameras are a great asset.
“The old way … still works, but we’re just finding that this is much more efficient,” he said.