Thermal imaging camera donated to Port Richey Fire Department

PORT RICHEY — Frank Buonanotte found inspiration in a documentary about firefighters, the hazards they face and the equipment that helps keep them safe.

One aspect of the film stayed with him: thermal imaging cameras, which greatly enhance firefighters' ability to locate victims through smoke and flames, remain out of reach to many departments because of their high cost.

Fast forward a few months, and the Atlanta businessman was setting up a nonprofit foundation to provide the cameras, which have a price tag of $12,000, to small firehouses around the nation.

On Tuesday, the Port Richey Fire Department became the latest recipient.

"No other tool has so much potential to save victims and fallen firefighters than this thermal imager," Buonanotte told city officials, council members and uniformed firefighters gathered at the station Tuesday.

Buonanotte, who made his fortune developing shopping centers, rattled off some sobering statistics in championing the specialized cameras:

• Someone in the United States dies in a fire every 2 1/2 hours.

• A firefighters dies in the line of duty every 76 hours.

• Fires claim more lives than all other natural disasters combined.

But then, these hopeful ones:

• Firefighters using thermal imagers were able to locate victims 99 percent of the time, compared with 60 percent without the imager.

• Searches for victims took 60 percent less time with the camera, and searches for fallen firefighters took half as much time.

The camera came to Port Richey through a donation to Buonanotte's charity, 500 For Life, by a family foundation in Boca Grande. David Lindenbaum, president of the Solstice Foundation, knew Buonanotte through business and was impressed by his efforts. "I thought it was extraordinary work he was doing and asked him how we could help," Lindenbaum said at the ceremony Tuesday.

The camera, the size of an older home camcorder, has a small screen through which a person's shape glows, even through smoke and haze.

Mayor Richard Rober spoke of the city's painful budget process of the last year. "I don't know that our budget would ever allow a piece of equipment like this," he said.

Buonanotte, who has made donations to departments in 31 states, said the cameras have served other purposes: tracking down criminals and locating wandering Alzheimer's patients.

"Hopefully, this will have a lot of effects on the community besides just the fire department," he said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Thermal imaging camera donated to Port Richey Fire Department 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 9:07pm]

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