Technology: A growing tool for firefighters

By Jillian Marshall

Technology: A growing tool for firefighters

March 7, 2014 Updated Mar 7, 2014 at 10:43 AM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) In the past week, three fires have broken out in the Southern Tier, including one on Tuesday where the ceiling collapsed with crews still inside. But thanks to technology, firefighters were able to make it safely out of the crumbling home.

When a firefighter walks into an engulfed home or building, many things could go wrong. And, with better insulated structures, fires are burning hotter, stronger and darker, according to Binghamton Assistant Fire Chief Richard Allen, Jr.

"It's easy for a firefighter to get lost, it's easy for a firefighter to get trapped and hurt," Allen, who is also the trainer for his department, said.

But, technology is helping these men and women stay alive.

One of the pieces of technology the Binghamton Fire Department employs is a thermal imaging camera, which allows them to see people and objects through the smoke.

Another tool that keeps firefighters safe in a blaze is part of their suit. The Personal Alert Safety System, or PASS, evokes a loud alarm sound when a firefighter hasn't moved in 30 seconds.

"If someone goes down, you follow the sound and you could find them," Allen said.

PASS also senses heat and goes off if the flames get too hot for the firefighters' gear.

The newest pieces of technology at BFD are personalized radios. When a firefighter hits the call button, dispatch and other firefighters can see their personal number on the screen of the radio. So, they know who is speaking and where they are. The radios also have an emergency button.

No matter how helpful the technology is, firefighters still rely on their training and gut feelings.

"The new technology is great, but you have to rely on yourself first," said firefighter Chris Mallery.

Allen said firefighters also use a gas meter, which monitors the amount of carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide gas in the air during and after fires. Both gases are deadly byproducts of fire and smoke.