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Friday, October 27, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
The inside of Fire Department headquarters as seen
through a thermal imaging camera.

new cameras allow
sight through smoke

Thermal images of people
'look like ghosts, but this
is to prevent people from
becoming ghosts'

By Jaymes K. Song

Honolulu firefighters have a new high-tech tool that allows them to see into a dark, smoke-filled room and save lives more quickly.

The Honolulu Fire Department has bought 10 "thermal imaging" cameras which detect heat sources, such as people and pets, through the thickest of smoke.

"When the firefighter opens the room, he or she can see if there is a body in there and go straight to the person instead of having to feel around," said HFD spokesman Capt. Richard Soo.

The device, which weighs about 10 pounds and is the size of a large home-video camera, only transmits black-and-white images.

"It looks like real bad TV," Soo said. Images on the cameras "look like ghosts, but this is to prevent people from becoming ghosts."

Each camera, made by ISG Thermal Systems Ltd., costs $15,000, which came out of HFD's equipment fund. Firefighters purchased the cameras after testing them for six months.

Soo said the camera came in handy when the Maemae Chapel in Nuuanu collapsed in May. The cameras were used to scan for any victims trapped under the debris.

But firefighters say the camera will be especially helpful in house and building fires where visibility is extremely limited.

Fire Capt. Edward Simeona said there have been a few occasions where the smoke was so thick, firefighters discovered people as they stumbled over them.

Firefighters will also benefit by surveying rooms faster, conserving their energy and water.

A digital feed from the cameras can also be beamed to a laptop computer where firefighters can assess and monitor the situation from the outside of a burning structure.

All five battalion chiefs will carry the cameras in their cars, as will the two rescue teams and the two hazardous-materials teams. One device will be used for training.

HFD also plans to use the camera in mountain rescues and to scan a fire-damaged building to ensure there are no hot spots that could flare up again. Firefighters will begin using the devices regularly in a few weeks.

"It's another tool to do our mission better, which is saving lives," Soo said.

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