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Monrovia VFD gets lifesaving tool

By By Thomas Tingle
Record Managing Editor
Firefighters with the Monrovia Volunteer Fire Department have a new lifesaving tool to use that will enable them to see through smoke, find fires and identify victims.
Known as the Bullard Thermal Imager, volunteers Pete Mehok and Shawn Terry say they've used the imager twice since purchasing the $16,000 unit in September. Funding to purchase the imager came through a $10,000 grant from Sen. Tom Butler and the department's annual family portrait fundraising project.
Placing his hand on the cover of a magazine and holding it there for 30 seconds – then lifting his hand up and pointing the imager down to the cover of the magazine, Terry explained how super-sensitive the imager is and how it works.
"All objects have a certain temperature and emit waves of thermal energy called infrared radiation. The hotter the object, the more energy waves are emitted. A thermal imaging device translates these energy waves into a viewable image to display a black and white picture of a scene," Terry said.
On the screen of a thermal imager, hottest objects show as white, coolest objects show as black and features of other objects show as varying shades of gray.
"The thermal picture helps us see through smoke, find fires and find victims who may be trapped inside a burning structure."
After pointing the imager down to the cover of the magazine, Terry flipped through several pages of the magazine. The thermal imager was able to pick up the infrared radiation left from when Terry placed his hand on the magazine's cover.
Mehok said the thermal imager can't see through walls, glass or solid objects, but they can detect the heat transferred to the surface of an object.
"Let's say for instance that you smell smoke in your home, but you can't find a visible fire anywhere that would indicate the origin of the smoke. You call us and we come out to your place to see what's going on. Before we had the thermal imager, we would have felt along the walls with our hands, possibly punch a few holes out and try to detect if the smoke and fire is actually coming from somewhere inside the walls," Mehok said. "With the thermal imager, we can point it to the walls and it will detect the heat that is coming from the source. We make the hole in the wall there and put out the fire. Now you don't have holes all over your walls. We've responded to the situation faster."
The Madison Fire Department is the only other fire department in Madison County to have a thermal imager in its possession.
"If it saves only one life, it's paid for itself," Mehok said.
"This is a valuable piece of equipment and easy to use. All of our volunteers have been trained to use it and I'm glad we have it as part of our continued effort to get the best fire fighting and lifesaving equipment available."

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