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GIFT OF TWO CAMERAS TO HELP FIREFIGHTERS

Tampa Fire Rescue now has two more thermal imaging cameras.

New Tampa firefighters no longer need to wait for equipment to arrive from Tampa when trying to locate victims or contain the fiery debris that often blows out of burning buildings.

Two fire companies in New Tampa - one at Cross Creek, another at Tampa Palms - received new thermal imaging cameras Tuesday, which help firefighters see through darkness or thick smoke. The two cameras, which were donated by Fireman's Fund Insurance and Italiano Insurance, are worth a total of $18,000, said Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Dennis Jones.

The department already has four of the cameras, and Capt. Bill Wade said the department had been trying to budget for purchasing the two additional cameras for New Tampa. But the cameras, which can run to $10,000 each, were "quite a bit of money," Wade said.

Jones said the new thermal cameras look like old Polaroid cameras, about 6 inches on each side, with a screen on the back that shows firefighters the spots of smoldering heat that might not be visible at night or under a thick cover of smoke. The camera will also pick up human body heat, pointing firefighters toward victims.

The department already has four cameras, one for each district, but the closest camera to New Tampa was kept by Engine 13 at Busch Boulevard and 30th, not a quick drive to New Tampa in traffic.

"Both of these cameras will be going to the New Tampa area," Jones said. "That was the primary need."

The donation ceremony was held Tuesday morning at New Tampa Fire Station 21 in Cross Creek.

The department got the first four cameras about a year ago, Jones said, and they have helped in a few major fires. In one incident, two buildings in downtown Tampa caught fire and the cameras helped firefighters track embers that were flying off the buildings and threatening to damage neighboring structures.

Jeff Italiano, president of Italiano Insurance, decided to donate the two new cameras after seeing a documentary, Into the Fire, about how some fire companies struggle to buy newer equipment, like the cameras. He said he was astounded to learn that Tampa Fire, which covers 120 square miles, had only four cameras.

He said a grant from Fireman's Fund Insurance paid for one camera, and he paid out of pocket for the second.

"These cameras are so valuable at saving lives, I think people would want to help get more of them," he said.

Sarah Mishkin can be reached at smishkin@sptimes.com or (813) 225 3110.

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