CAL FIRE has installed an infrared (IR) video camera in one of their OV-10 Bronco Air Tactical Aircraft that can transmit real time live video to battalion chiefs on the ground in the San Diego area. The IR sensors can “see” through smoke to enable the aerial supervision and ground-based personnel to know the location and intensity of the fire. The system even has the capability for firefighters on the ground to control the camera.
The equipment was paid for with two grants of $100,000 each from San Diego Gas and Electric and San Diego County.
I am amazed that this technology has not been available to firefighters for a long time. Local television stations have been streaming live video of fires from helicopters for decades. The people that really need it, firefighters, have only recently started to have access to it.
The Firewatch Cobra helicopters that the USFS is experimenting with also has infrared capabilities and can stream video to a specially outfitted van that follows the helicopter around.
The camera would be part of a ”next generation incident command system” providing data on where people and equipment are deployed, a technology that would also provide greater safety and situational awareness for firefighters.
UPDATE September 20, 2012: Below is a video that illustrates the new system:
Putting real time aerial IR images into the hands of Battalion Chiefs that are in a remote area actively engaged in suppressing a fire, is huge. Huge. It adds a whole new level of situational awareness. This could save lives of both firefighters and residents that might be endangered by the fire. $200,000 for this? If it performs like it sounds like it can, that is a cheap price for something so valuable. I wonder if it could have saved the lives of the five firefighters that died on the Esperanza fire? If a Division Supervisor or Branch Director had known where Engine 57 was in relation to the fire that day in 2006, I am convinced it would have made a difference. A $200,000 piece of equipment might have saved their lives.