Springfield Fire upgrades life-saving thermal imaging technology

The Springfield Fire/Rescue Division recently upgraded technology that crews say is critical when lives are on the line.

Thermal imagers detect differences in temperatures at fire scenes. The department has owned imagers for around 20 years, but due to issues with the imagers breaking and budget constraints, Springfield Fire hasn’t been able to keep up with advances in the technology.

“We actually had a couple engines that didn’t have thermal imagers on them,” said Assistant Chief Rodney Rahrle. “This is probably our number one life saving tool.”

Rahrle said it wasn’t until just recently that Springfield Fire went in on a bid for new imagers with Columbus Fire Department and received eight new devices for about $44,000, about a $20,000 discount.

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The new imagers are cheaper, lighter and are more efficient. With the discounted price, Rahrle said each imager averaged around $5,500 — compared to tens of thousands of dollars for older models the department had been using.

Rahrle said each fire engine will have a new imager, as well as the battalion chief.

A firefighter can select a certain mode on the imager, depending on what task they’re given on scene. For example, the imagers can be used to find someone who may be trapped inside a structure during a fire. Body heat is detected using infrared technology.

“(The new imager) has different modes, so that if you’re looking for a person, you can change to a mode that will enhance the contrast and that person will stand out,” Rahrle said.

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The imagers also signal to fire crews where the source of a fire may be and when a structure may be too hot for them to enter.

“When you go into a fire, you know when you’re getting into the danger zone and when you need to start backing out,” Rahrle said.

The imagers can also be used to find fires that may be hidden in the walls, see holes in floors and identify defective machinery, especially when heavy smoke can limit how much firefighters can see.

“This technology will save lives and make us even more effective in knocking down fires,” said Chief Brian Miller. “These devices also help us stay safe in very dangerous situations.”

The devices were delivered to the fire division this month and staff underwent classroom training in the systems earlier this week.

8 — number of new thermal imagers purchased

20 — age of some imagers prior to latest purchase

$5,500 — discounted price per new imager

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