Bowen Island Undercurrent, by Susanne Martin
March 13, 2013
It’s roughly the same size as the Undercurrent camera. It weighs less and costs more. The thermal imaging camera is kept next to the driver’s seat of the fire truck – it is the newest piece of equipment of the Bowen Island Volunteer Fire Department, purchased with funding from the Bowen Island Community Foundation.
Fire chief Brian Biddlecombe and volunteer fire fighters Mike Laudrum and Scott Begg met with Joyce Ganong, chair of the Community Foundation, to express their appreciation.
Biddlecombe explained that even though there is a lot of wealth on the island and we are very close to Metro Vancouver, Bowen Island has a rural volunteer fire department. “Funding is not falling out of the sky for us and we have to make sure that it first goes to the turnout gear for the guys,” Biddlecombe says. “After that, there is a case to be made for stuff that would be nice to have and the thermal imaging camera fits into that category.”
Biddlecombe said that cameras like this are part of the equipment of the major fire departments in the lower mainland but not in rural areas in B.C. A few years ago, Begg suggested getting one for Bowen Island.
“When I was in training in Comox, these devices were available to use,” Begg said. “They are very useful, especially when you’re going into a room with limited visibility. It’s hard enough to see out of your mask with a flashlight. With that camera, you can see everything perfectly and that can help find a child or someone who’s passed out from smoke inhalation.”
Biddlecombe added that it doesn’t happen that often but approaching a house full of smoke can be a fire department’s “worst nightmare,” especially if not everyone is accounted for. “Of course, the first priority is to get everyone out,” he said.
By rendering infrared radiation as visible light, the camera allows the firefighters to see areas of heat through smoke, darkness or a heat permeable barrier, including heat signatures of visually obscured victims. The camera can also be used to pinpoint the source of the seat of the fire.
“There may be a house full of smoke but no visible sign of the fire,” Begg said. “With the camera, you can see if there is a hot spot behind a wall.”
Another area where the camera can be useful are scenes of car accidents, according to Biddlecombe, who said, “Quite often you come to an accident and there is a question where somebody might have been injured and might have stumbled away from the car. Sometimes we’ve ended up looking up and down the road in the ditches.”
Ganong also drew attention to the fact that the camera will contribute to the safety of the fire department by cutting down the time before anyone in a precarious situation and the source of the fire can be discovered as well as when a fire fighter is in danger.
Biddlecombe explained that the Bowen Island Community Foundation purchased the thermal imaging camera that cost around $8,000 after learning that it was on the top of the fire department’s wish list. It hasn’t been put to use other than in practice sessions. “We want to thank the Foundation for making this possible,” he said.