In the dangerous business of firefighting, performing life-and-death missions in smoke-filled rooms with zero visibility is part of the job.
On Thursday, a Goleta technology company made that job a little easier for the Santa Barbara Fire Department.
FLIR Systems, a thermal-imaging company located at 70 Castilian Drive just off South Los Caneros Road, donated two hand-held infrared cameras that firefighters can use to scan a room for trapped victims.
The donation of the cameras, worth $15,000 apiece, brings to about a dozen the number of heat-sensing cameras SBFD currently has.
Fire officials say they eventually would like for every one of the department’s roughly 100 firefighters to possess a thermal-imaging device, much like how they all currently carry a self-contained breathing apparatus.
Being a piece of firefighting gear, the flashlight-sized cameras are durable, said Andrew Teich, president of FLIR’s Commercial Vision Systems division.
“You can throw these things, drop them on the ground, they are entirely water proof — they float,” he said Thursday during a demonstration at Station One, 121 W. Carrillo St. “They are completely sealed and unaffected by the rigors of the fire environment.”
FLIR uses the same technology in a relatively new feature for BMWs that allows drivers to see up to four times beyond what their headlights illuminate in the dark. The tiny cameras are embedded in the car grills, and the shapes they detect are displayed for the driver on a dashboard screen.
The devices can also be used by rescue personnel to detect car-accident victims whose vehicles have plunged into wooded ravines or by firefighters to find the hot sources of burning smells.
On Thursday, FLIR representatives said they were donating the gear because the company has thrived of late, and wanted to give back to the community. They also said producing more cameras in the long run will decrease the cost, which in turn could help achieve the goal of putting them in the hands of every firefighter.
FLIR arrived in Goleta in 2004 after purchasing Indigo Systems, which formed in 1996 and had employed about 200 people by the time it was bought out. Since then, the number of employees at FLIR has swelled to 400.