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Thermal cameras give Glendale firefighters X-ray-like vision

The heat signatures of two firefighters could be seen on one of the 50 new thermal-imaging cameras that the Glendale Fire Department purchased during a demonstration of the device’s capabilities on Wednesday.
The heat signatures of two firefighters could be seen on one of the 50 new thermal-imaging cameras that the Glendale Fire Department purchased during a demonstration of the device’s capabilities on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Smoke quickly fills a room the size of a shipping container while two bodies lie on the floor. Within seconds, they completely disappear from view — though not for personnel with the Glendale Fire Department.

The smoke actually came from a fog machine and the bodies were firefighters who volunteered to act as stand-ins as the agency demonstrated its new thermal-imaging cameras on Wednesday. Although the firefighters could no longer be seen with the naked eye, their thermal signatures could be seen as clear as day through the cameras.

“This essentially opens our eyes and [we can] see victims through any smoke or blackout conditions,” Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas said.

The cameras are roughly the size of a smartphone and can easily be used with one hand. Costing $850 each and manufactured by Seek Thermal, the department purchased 50 of the cameras that started being used by every on-duty firefighter in the city on Thursday.

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Prior to the roll-out, the department had used 12 thermal imagers that were roughly three times the size of the new cameras. According to Lanzas, they were also typically carried by a fire captain.

Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas holds one of the old thermal imaging cameras, left, that the department has been using compared to a newer one, right, that they will equip to all 50 on-duty firefighters beginning Thursday, Jan. 30.
Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas holds one of the old thermal imaging cameras, left, that the department has been using compared to a newer one, right, that they will equip to all 50 on-duty firefighters beginning Thursday, Jan. 30.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Lanzas said being able to have a thermal-imaging camera in the hands of every firefighter now is a “tremendous enhancement to our capability, our safety and our public service.”

The most recent use of thermal-imaging technology by the department was during an apartment fire on Jan. 16, where two firefighters fell to the basement level of the building. Lanzas said thermal imaging was critical to allow the department to quickly locate the firefighters and get them safely out of the building.

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Funding for the cameras was a joint effort between the city and the Glendale Fire Foundation, according to foundation member Alex Ghazalpour. When he heard the department was thinking about getting the cameras, he said it was a “no-brainer idea” just from a safety aspect alone.

“The paramount concern of our fire foundation is the safety of the men and women [of the department] … for the work that they do on a day-to-day basis,” he said.

Lanzas said an added benefit with the new cameras is that they will allow firefighters to do less property damage when responding to incidents such as chimney fires, where flames can get trapped in hard-to-reach spaces. Typically, firefighters would have to break into a wall and cut away sections of it until they’re able to reach the fire.

“This allows us to essentially look through a wall to find different signatures and allows us to say, ‘Yeah, this area is hot. It’s increasing in heat. There’s a fire in there,’” he said.

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