Thermal imaging system helps firefighters save lives

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When Richmond County firefighters are dispatched, not only is it a race to the's a race against time.

In 2004, firefighters responded to more than 19,000 smoke alarms locally.

3000 of those were structure fires.

Minutes can mean the difference between life and death...and in a smoke-filled room of darkness, a thermal imaging camera may be the only hope firefighters have to find survivors.

What if your child was trapped in your home by fire, desperately searching for a way to safety as smoke quickly filled the rooms?

Battalion Chief Richard Burts has worked for the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department for 25 years. He says believe it or not, it happens.

"One of the things about saving a person in a fire is getting to them in a timely manner," Chief Burts says.

Every second counts.

Chief Burts remembers the "crawl and feel" method, which relied on flashlights to shed light.

A new tool is helping Augusta firefighters see in total darkness.

The technology was developed by the navy, and it filtered into the fire service.

It's called a thermal imaging camera.

"What this camera does is allows us to search a lot faster," says Capt. William Dozier of the Richmond County Fire Department. "It measures temperature differences here."

"A lot of times you cannot see, so with the camera, what it does is differentiate from smoke and it reads body heat," Chief Burts says.

Because the thermal imaging camera measures heat, it can find people in a completely dark room. Firefighters use this technology to find victims faster, enabling them to save more lives.

"Think about closing your eyes and walking into any building," says Chief Burts.

"Now we are able to look at things in matter of heat versus going in blind," Capt. Dozier says.

It's the same type of technology that helped firefighters locate a fire at the Days Inn off of Gordon Highway.

The fire was in between the walls.

"That camera enabled us to be able to go in there to see exactly where the fire was located at," Chief Burts says.

It's a tool that is helping to save more lives across the country, and here in Augusta, they are helping to scope a potential killer.

"It enables us to search better, save lives," says Capt. Dozier.

There are several of these cameras in the area.

Nearly every engine company has one available to them.

However, firefighters can't stress enough smoke detectors are necessary.

Make sure you change your batteries every six months.