Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 1, 2013

Bluefield Fire Department’s helmet cameras a useful new training tool

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — A local fire department is hoping new technology will help educate trainees and members of the public about fire safety.

Firefighter David Thompson Jr. with the Bluefield Fire Department said the department has been using small cameras mounted to helmets to record fires for future training and educational use.

“They help us show tactics, especially to probationary firefighters coming in,” Thompson said. “A lot of them have never been in a live fire before and this shows them what it is like. You can show them the dynamics of a fire, how the fire works and acts. This allows us to take fires we have faced and use them to educate both firefighters and members of the public without putting them in any actual danger.”

Thompson said the videos can then be used to train both incoming firefighters as well as members of the public about fire safety.

“We can put these videos on record and use them as training tools over and over again,” he said. “We can use a single video for years to come. If some of your guys can’t make it to a training session, you can film it with this camera and show it to them later. We were doing practice with a new nozzle the other day to show how it can be used. We filmed that to show other guys down at the station.”

Thompson said the money used to purchase the cameras came out of the pockets of firefighters, not from the department’s budget.

“The cameras cost about $200 each, which the firefighters have paid out of their own pocket,” Thompson said. “However, the knowledge that comes from this equipment is priceless. The camera is small and not that elaborate. It operates with a push button, but it films in high definition. The camera only weighs between 5 and 8 grams, which is nothing when its mounted on a helmet that already weighs about 15 pounds.”

Though the department has already filmed several fires, Thompson said there are some calls they will not film their response to.

“We don’t film any traffic accidents we respond to,” he said. “We don’t want to violate any HIPAA laws. However, we have filmed structure fires and several training programs the department has done.”

Similar videos are in use by other departments around the nation, Thompson said.

“We stumbled across some videos other fire departments had done using similar technology on the Internet,” he said. “I have a friend who works in a fire department where they are employing some of this technology as well. It gives you realistic shots of what a fire actually looks like and what combating a fire is actually like. They conduct training classes with films like these.”

However, Thompson said Bluefield’s department is one of the few departments in southern West Virginia using the technology.

“This will put us on the map,” he said. “We are one of the first departments in the area to have this kind of technology. It will be another addition to our toolbox and will be able to not only keep down any injuries to our department but God forbid any lives from being lost.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com