The Diamond Star Fire Department has a new, high-tech camera courtesy of its 17-member auxiliary and department employees who paid for the $10,000 piece of equipment by holding fund-raisers.
"It's what's referred to as a thermal imaging camera," Diamond Star Fire Chief Gary Hatch said. "It picks up heat and differentiates between objects. When we go into smoke, we can't see, but the camera can."
Hatch said the biggest money-maker was Spook Alley at the Haunted Mall last Halloween.
"The auxiliary also sold a lot of hot dogs and the 18 firefighters and their spouses contributed to the purchase of the camera," Hatch said.
"It took us two years."
Camera saves lives
The camera can show where victims are by picking up human body heat. It even shows fresh shoeprints where a person has walked, Hatch said.
"The heat transfer from a foot to a carpet shows up to five minutes afterward," he said. "We can trace people. We can use it for searching for lost people and it's accurate up to 100 feet."
Heavy smoke makes it difficult and dangerous for firefighters to search for victims, Hatch said.
"When we go into a house and we are crawling through the smoke -- with (the camera), it's like having daylight," Hatch said. "It will show me where the fire is at and where any victims are. A human being shows up as a white image and fire shows up as red. Most importantly, it cuts our response time to a victim by a third."
The camera also protects firefighters from injury, Hatch said.
"We had a multi-story house fire in Payson many years ago and they hadn't put the balconies in yet -- it was still under construction, so when the firefighters went in they were feeling around and the floor disappeared -- this camera will show that. It's lifesaving for victims and firefighters."
"One of the biggest things is that we used to have to tear out walls to see if there was fire in there," Hatch said. "With the camera, we can see right through the walls and it will tell us whether or not there is a heat source in there.
"It will expose any hot spots, whereas before, we would have had to tear the ceiling out."
The camera also is useful for wildland fires, Hatch said.
"We can see if there are spots that are still active or smoldering," he said.
The Payson Fire Department has two thermal imaging cameras for each fire engine.
Payson Fire Chief Marty deMasi said they were donated by a local resident who had seen a TV show on what the cameras can do.
"She came in about six years ago and asked if we had a thermal imaging camera," deMasi said. "I told her we didn't and then she asked how much they cost. A few hours later, she came back in with a check for $25,000."
DeMasi said the woman insisted on remaining anonymous.
Payson and Diamond Star have a mutual aid agreement, so the departments assist each other with any structure fires that occur in either district. Now, all three of the main fire engines that cover Payson and Star Valley have the cameras on them.
If another fire department within the county is in need of the camera, Hatch said he will send his trained personnel to assist.
"We have a countywide mutual aid agreement so we can send our truck with a camera to help them," Hatch said. "But these are most instrumental within the first five to 10 minutes because that's when we are looking for victims.
"Speed is of the essence when there is somebody in the house -- the No. 1 use for the camera is saving lives."