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Thermal Imaging Camera Locates Victim, Saves Life

WILLIAMSTOWN, VT--The all-volunteer Williamstown Fire Department received a 2003 Assistance to Firefighters grant, and among the equipment it purchased was a thermal imaging camera, or TIC, that features colorization of high heat areas.

The Department quickly put the camera into service on structure fires. "The camera has contributed greatly to the efficiency of our operations and to the protection of property within our community," said First Assistant Chief Tim Emmons.

Williamstown Fire Department protects a small, rural community in central Vermont with a population of approximately 3,300 people. The Department also provides mutual aid for nearby communities like Barre City and Town, Berlin, Brookfield, Chelsea, Northfield, and the State capital of Montpelier, which have a combined population of about 36,000.

Ten percent of the Department's total call volume, which is currently about 150 calls per year, is for mutual aid to these communities. Their calls include many motor vehicle accidents because Interstate 89 runs through Williamstown. Other calls include structure fires, brush fires, hazardous materials incidents, emergency medical services, and other emergencies.

A mobile home fire that the Department responded to in early June 2004 provides one example of how the camera has made a difference in protecting residents and their property. After the firefighters brought the fire under control, they surveyed the mobile home using the camera to ensure the were no further flames or embers hidden from sight. This particular mobile home had a wooden frame roof installed above a metal roof. With the camera, firefighters detected an unusual amount of heat in one section in the space between the two roofs. "With the TIC, we were able to find the source of the heat quickly and remove only that part of the roof that was affected," said Second Assistant Chief Bill Ashe. "Without a doubt the embers eventually would have rekindled the fire and led to a total loss of the mobile home," he said. "The TIC definitely reduced the damage that would have occurred otherwise."

In February 2005, Williamstown responded to a five-alarm house fire. Assistant Chief Ashe describes entering the house to rescue a man with quadriplegia. Because of the heavy smoke in the room, there was zero visibility.

"This was a fortunate rescue as we were accurately directed to the individual's ground-floor room and was able to find him quickly with a hand search," Ashe said. "Given the smoke condition, had he been in any other location in the home, we might not have found him without a TIC."

The Department is in the process of training a Rapid Intervention Team and has ordered their turnout gear. The Department's SCBAs are being upgraded.

What They Bought With The Grant:

  • Thermal imaging camera
  • Turnout gear
  • Rapid intervention team training
  • Self-contained breathing apparatus