Thermal imaging helps firefighters save lives

Updated: Feb. 6, 2020 at 3:46 PM EST
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MASSENA, N.Y. (WWNY) - A key 911 call. A quick arrival. Firefighters with thermal imaging. It all adds up to a big fire rescue in Massena.

Massena firefighters arrived at an apartment building the morning of January 7 and spotted a fire on the second floor. Two teams immediately entered the building. One to put out the fire; and one to rescue anyone who might be inside.

There was someone inside. The rescue team had to battle through thick smoke. They used thermal imaging equipment attached to their air masks.

“Searched the bedroom. They found the door to the bathroom shut. Found him in there. Got him in the bathroom and then they got him out,” said Paul Brownell, Massena fire chief.

The man was not breathing when found, but was quickly revived. Brownell said a citizen's call to 911 was one big key to the rescue.

“When we got the call we were told there was somebody, possibly somebody in the apartment. So we have to take that as someone is in there,” he said.

When the 911 center tells firefighters someone might be trapped inside, it changes everything.

“You go into a totally different mode. You know you're going in for search and rescue, you get your game plan on the engine on the way there,” said Matthew Denner, St. Lawrence County emergency services director:

Rescues don't always go the way the Massena one did. People can be found horribly maimed or dead. It's the worst part of the job for firefighters.

“They have images that they see right up front, right off the bat. And those pictures never leave. They're always there with you,” said Denner.

The fire that morning in Massena was put out quickly. The cause has been ruled accidental.

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