By Carl Nix
It’s hard to believe in 2018 that there are fire departments that don’t own a thermal imaging camera (TIC), considering that the technology has been in the fire service for nearly 20 years. When you look at the statistics and realize that more than 75 percent of fire departments in this country are volunteer, you can begin to understand why many of these departments don’t own a TIC. They simply can’t afford to buy one.
With the benefits of thermal imaging technology so widely known, many fire departments have made purchasing a TIC a priority and have turned to grant assistance programs for purchasing this vital tool. Manufacturers have dropped their prices for this technology considerably, with many TICs being priced under $5,500, making the tool much more affordable for fire departments.
There are, however, many volunteer departments that can’t afford the $5,500 price tag for a TIC. In fact, many of our small volunteer fire departments depend on their volunteer firefighters to put fuel in their trucks. Clearly, they cannot afford to purchase a TIC. The fact is that many fire departments have no other choice but to rely on grant assistance or fundraisers to purchase their first TIC or to replace an existing TIC that is equipped with yesterday’s technology. No other piece of equipment will contribute more to saving lives than the TIC.
Let’s start by exploring the possibilities of applying for a grant. The most popular grant for the fire service is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), which is regulated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Many fire departments apply for an AFG but not all receive funding. What if your department gets rejected? There are other grant options. The Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company that administers a local grant program called the Fireman’s Heritage Fund can be accessed by nearly any department in the country. Applying for a grant is a long process, and often you are one of many deserving departments in need of grant assistance. The process can be long and frustrating. Don’t give up. Many small volunteer departments have successfully purchased TICs through grant assistance programs.
If you have tried applying for a grant and have not been successful, think about enlisting the aid of a corporate sponsor. Your local banks, hospitals, civic organizations, and utility companies are good sources of sponsorship opportunities. Many civilians are not aware of the benefits of thermal imaging technology for firefighters, but once they understand this life-saving technology they are willing to make the investment. When asking for a corporate sponsor, stress that the reason for investing in a TIC is to enhance the safety of the town’s firefighters. The number one reason every fire department needs a TIC is firefighter safety.
You can also get creative in your fundraising by enlisting the help of your local businesses to organize an event to raise awareness and funds. As mentioned earlier, most people are not aware of the benefits of thermal imaging technology or of the dangers firefighters face on the job. Think about organizing a fundraiser that shows how useful a TIC can be and the impact it can have on a community. For instance, demonstrate a search and rescue situation with and without a TIC to help heighten awareness of how a TIC can be used to save a life. If you have a training structure, you can use it for this demonstration, or any dark room will do. Even a dark area in the firehouse will work. Demonstrating the differences of searching in a smoke-filled room without a TIC and with a TIC is a visual that effectively explains what it’s like to maneuverer in a fire.
Don’t forget to involve your local media. Invite your local TV news reporters to the TIC demonstration to help get the word out. Seeing a live demonstration is worth a thousand words and possibly a corporate sponsorship. Throughout the years, I have attended many fundraising events including auctions, T-shirt sales, raffles, pancake breakfasts, bowling tournaments, and golf scrambles. I’m sure many of you have creative ideas for a fundraising event.
This month’s column wasn’t about TIC training, but finding resources to help fund the purchase of TICs is an investment every fire department needs to make. Thermal imaging technology has allowed firefighters to see through thick smoke and restore sight. Putting a TIC into the hands of firefighters is an investment in firefighter safety. Whether you choose grant assistance, corporate sponsorships, fundraising, or a combination of all three, you can be sure that your investment is a smart one. You’re investing in saving lives.
Carl Nix is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.