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Deerfield FD gets spiffy breathing, thermal-imaging gear

  • Deerfield firefighter Richard Butler holds up the new thermal imaging camera made by MSA that is attached to the breathing equipment. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Deerfield fire chief Mark Tibbetts shows the old thermal imaging camera that has now been replaced by a portable unit that works off a breathing apparatus. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The thermal imaging camera works off of the breathing apparatus for each firefighter. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Deerfield Fire Department is so small that even its chief isn’t full-time, but it’s about to be the first department in the state to combine two of the most modern tools of the job: thermal imaging cameras and self-contained breathing units.

“MSA has just come out with a new product,” Chief Mark Tibbetts said, referring to one of the main companies that makes equipment for firefighters. “I was in the process of updating our air packs and they were telling us about this technology and I signed up for it, to receive three air packs. I’ve just ordered three more.”

For years, fire departments have used thermal imaging cameras, which detect differences in the infrared radiation given off by heat.

“They have so many applications. If it’s a chimney fire, you can look for an extension (of the fire) into a wall. ... You can use them to find the seat of the fire. If a person is trapped under a bed or under a piece of furniture, you’re going to see the heat of a human body and find them,” Tibbetts said.

Also for many years fire departments have equipped firefighters with an air pack or a self-contained breathing apparatus, allowing them to work in areas full of dangerous smoke or fumes.

Until now the two systems were separate, requiring a handheld camera as well as a body-mounted air pack.

But increasing miniaturization of digital cameras has made thermal imaging units small enough to be included in the air pack itself. At least two companies have announced such systems, including Pittsburgh-based MSA.

Tibbetts said some departments in Massachusetts, including Boston, are getting similar equipment but he thinks Deerfield will be the first in New Hampshire.

Tibbetts said the combined units cost about $7,200 each, which is about $2,000 more than an air pack alone and, he said, less than the cost of a handheld thermal imaging camera.

“You don’t need to carry another tool with you. This is about safety for the firefighters, also safety in saving lives and property,” he said.

The Deerfield Fire Department has 25 firefighters, all volunteers on stipend, including Tibbetts.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)