The Dover Fire Department is using these portable thermal-imaging units to locate victims, hidden fires and possible exits in smoke-filled environments. (Dover Fire Department)

DOVER (Tusco TV) - Firefighters will have a new tool to assist them at structure fires this year. 

Dover Fire Chief Russ Volkert says each member has been issued a personal thermal imaging device from Seek Thermal. He explains how the modern units are a vast improvement over their larger and costlier predecessors.

“About twenty years ago, they came into pretty-popular use and were larger hand-held units. The technology has improved and the cost has come down to the point where now, there are a couple of options which are actual personal imagers.” 

As with previous imagers, the devices will assist firefighters in locating victims, hidden fires and possible exits in a smoke-filled environment, increasing the safety and effectiveness for every firefighter on the scene. Volkert says many fire situations provide zero visibility, but with the help of thermal imaging, firefighters can monitor the heat levels of an environment and operate much more safely.

“To actually see what’s going on and to find --because of the heat difference-- folks that are down in a fire, then you can get them out, get them under EMS care more immediately, and it increases safety of operations on one side, speed --which is critical under those conditions-- and ultimately, the survivability of folks that are found in a fire situation.”

Volkert says there are other uses for the personal imagers, referencing the police search for a local man who went missing in harsh winter weather. He says the fire department lent its thermal imaging technology to the search, and the man was brought to safety.

“In those conditions, had he been out in a very cold environment for very long then he would have certainly suffered from hypothermia, but that aided in that particular case, in a search out in the open. It’s like a lot of tools; there are some obvious uses, and over time and with use, you find there are many other applications.”

Volkert says the technology has grown to where he can outfit his entire 24-man team for $17,000, less than the price of only two or three units a decade ago. He says he thinks the investment is money well-spent.