Columbia Fire Department in Tennessee, US, uses cutting-edge technology to keep community safe
The Columbia Fire Department is on the cutting-edge of fire fighting technology. They look into everything from thermal imaging cameras to drones. The latest addition to their fire fighting arsenal? Helmet cameras. Wednesday night, 8 May 2019, was the first time the department used the cameras during in real-time. It was just after 22h40 when 911 dispatchers received multiple calls about a fully-involved structure fire on West 15th Street. Two buildings and an RV in the parking lot were on fire. Fire crews were on the scene in minutes, quickly extinguishing the blaze. Captain Jeremy Finley was wearing the new helmet camera.
From Finley's perspective, you can see flames leaping from the structure as fire fighters attack the blaze from the front of the building, dangers like live power lines lurking in the darkness. "The next morning, he watched the video and saw new elements he didn't notice while on-scene," explained Chief Ty Cobb. "I didn't realize how much fire they had until I watched the fire this morning [on video]. You can see how much damage and how much fire they encountered."
The camera not only shows citizens what it's like for first responders to fight a fire, it also helps first responders see what they did right or wrong in the heat of the moment and use that knowledge to improve how they do their jobs in the future.
After Captain Finley watched the video, he said his team did well. However, Finley said, the video can also be used to teach, even a grizzled 21-year veteran like himself. "Oh lord, yes, there are things on this fire we did really well," Capt Finley explained. "The speed of the attack. Us getting in there, on the fire. If we had delayed that response, water on the fire, that thing could've grown substantially."
Finley also says recording video with the helmet camera keeps his men focused on safety and dangers that might get someone hurt.
Technology is an important fire fighting tool for Chief Ty Cobb. According to Cobb, items like the thermal imaging camera used Wednesday night help keep fire fighters safe and make his crews more efficient for the citizens.
The smoke was so thick during Thursday night's fire, Capt Finley said he couldn't see the flames to know where to direct water. However, because a fellow captain was holding the department's thermal imaging camera and watching the TV screen, he was able to know exactly what to do. "It was blacked out, [I] could see nothing," Finley said. "It was so black from the smoke trapped inside the building; you could see absolutely nothing without this piece of technology."
In 2018, the Columbia Fire Department also began using a drone to help with emergencies during a major blaze. Live pictures from the drone flying over the fire helped first responders on the ground know where the fire was and where to train their hoses. "The most important thing is to keep our people safe," Cheif Cobb said. "If you can get an elevated view and see the conditions, whether it is a collapsed zone and make sure apparatus [is] parked safely and see how the fire is spreading. See where fire fighters are on the scene and you can account for them."
Chief Cobb said his department uses new technology wisely for safety and to the community's advantage. "Absolutely, we are trying to be progressive in that aspect," he said.
The special fire cameras cost around $1 000 each. Cobb said he hopes the dept. can purchase more in the new future.