Menlo Park: Facebook funds high-tech cameras for firefighters


The Menlo Park Fire Protection District has used money from Facebook to order high-tech cameras used for finding people trapped inside burning buildings, fire officials said.

According to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, the new cameras will replace existing equipment that's six to eight years old.

The district plans to deploy 11 new Bullard Eclipse LDX model thermal imaging cameras at a cost of $90,000. The funding for the new cameras came from the development impact agreement for Facebook's new West Campus in Menlo Park.

"It's almost like a police radar gun," Chief Schapelhouman said. "You point it and you look through the screen, and that allows you to see the heat signatures through the smoke."

The LDX model uses new technology to increase brightness and improve contrast, which makes it possible to locate fire victims in the kind of smoke-filled, zero-visibility conditions found inside burning buildings.

"This is so much different from what we experienced 10 years ago," he said. "I used to crawl through buildings and close my eyes and focus on other senses, because vision wasn't a good one. You try and listen, hear the sounds of a burning building and listen for people crying out."

The LDX model also features "thermal throttle," which allows firefighters to pinpoint hot spots in walls or ceilings, and a digital video recorder known as the "scene catcher." Firefighters plan to record exactly when and where they locate victims inside of burning buildings and use that footage for post-incident analysis.

They also hope to show the public what firefighters experience under dangerous and difficult job conditions and what goes into rescuing fire victims.

"We're just happy to have this kind of technology," Chief Schapelhouman said. "Had we not had a donation like that I'm not sure we would've bought the most advanced equipment because we always have to balance performance and cost."

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District serves Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and some unincorporated areas of San Mateo County.

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