By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After two years of fund raising, the Havre City Fire Department expects the arrival of a $20,000 thermal-imaging camera by the end of the month.
Until then, the department will have the use of a loaner camera.
The camera uses infrared technology. It can tell firefighters the temperature of the images it displays, so they can distinguish a human body from fire and smoke. The camera will allow firefighters to locate victims in heavy smoke and find hot spots in structures, Havre Fire Chief David Sheppard said.
The camera is standard equipment for fire departments of most cities and large towns in Montana, Sheppard said.
To help get Havre a camera, Local 601 of the International Association of Firefighters held several fund-raisers in 2002, bringing in $10,000.
In March 2003 the Fire Department was awarded a Fire Act grant, throwing federal money into the pot, and making the purchase possible.
But the final piece, the camera, was another year in coming. The Fire Department put in an order months ago, so long ago officials can't quite remember when, Sheppard said.
"The technology for the camera wasn't perfected. They had some recalls on that camera and had some more research and development work to complete. That work is completed. Now it's a matter of a few weeks, we hope, before they get that to us," Sheppard said.
The camera was originally promised for June, then July, Sheppard said.
After the most recent delay, the manufacturer gave the Fire Department a loaner camera, which arrived Sept. 14. So far that camera has only been used in training, Sheppard said.
The camera weighs less than 5 pounds. It can be worn around the neck, allowing a firefighter to see while crawling. In addition, the camera is equipped with telemetry, allowing firefighters outside the building to see on a screen what the firefighter inside is seeing. This can be used to help direct firefighters, as well as to record the fire for training, Sheppard said.
The Havre Fire Department responds to roughly 400 fires a year. Most of these are structure fires. In all cases the camera would be used.
"Anytime we have a fire, we have to do a search" for victims, Sheppard said. Having the camera "is definitely a plus. The fund-raiser did help us a lot," he added.