Donation from Plover gives Park Ridge firefighters an edge on the job
By Brandi Makuski
The Park Ridge Fire Dept. received its first thermal imaging camera this week.
The camera, which was donated by the neighboring Plover Fire Dept. on Thursday, was purchased by the village about 20 years ago. Plover found itself with an extra functioning camera after village leaders upgraded the department’s equipment.
“It still functions perfectly normal,” said Plover Fire Chief Mark Deaver. “We just replaced ours with something new.”
The camera, which is not dissimilar in appearance to a radar gun, uses infrared radiation to form images on a screen, making it possible for firefighters to see through walls — a tool which will save time and lives at the scene of a fire.
Deaver said the village bought the cameras at $15,000 a piece in the 1990s, but added at the time, it was a relatively new technology available to rescue workers.
“The more the technology becomes available, the more they come down in price,” he said, adding new cameras were purchased by the village at a more palatable $4,000.
“I think we’re the last fire department in the county to have one of these,” said Park Ridge Fire Chief Brian Lepper. “And this is probably the number one tool we’ve added that will help us find a downed person in a smoke-filled room. If somebody’s laying on the floor in a smoke-filled room, this’ll see them, no problem.”
The camera picks up varying levels heat emitted by a people, electrical outlets- and even studs in the wall, but is unable to see through glass. Deaver said the older camera provides a clear distinction between body heat signatures and flames in a room that’s already burning, and requires almost no training to use.
“If there’s a fire behind a wall, or a hot spot, before [cameras] you’d have to guess and make a great big hole; now you can just point the camera,” Lepper said. “So your property owners don’t see as much damage.”
Plover’s Assistant Chief Ken Voss said Plover firefighters use thermal imaging cameras on every fire call, including a recent fire on Birch Drive.
“The smoke was blowing in our face, it was kind of difficult to see,” Voss said. “I had two people on a hose line and I just took the camera and pointed it, and boom– here’s your hot spots, and all they had to do was aim.”
The donation also helps neighboring departments, Deaver said, because Park Ridge is a key backup department for large fires.
“Park Ridge comes, on a box alarm (a multiple-alarm fire call), they come down to the Village of Plover,” Deaver said. “So we want them to have the tools that they need to protect us when we’re out on a fire call. We want them to have those tools just like we have.”
Lepper said before the cameras were available to firefighters, they relied on their sense of touch — a difficult task while wearing turnouts and fire retardant gloves — lost time that can too often can cost lives.
“It’s the big different between a recovery and a rescue,” Lepper said. “[With a camera] you can see the downed person right away. Years ago we’d have to follow the pattern of the room, follow along the wall to see if you could feel a person. Now, you don’t even have to walk in the room and you can see there’s somebody down in there.”
Lepper said his department plans to hold some kind of 5K race later this year as a fundraiser to purchase more equipment. More information on that race, and the equipment for which the department is raising funds, will be released as a later date, he said.