The grant, which was officially announced on Nov. 1, was distributed by the Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighter Grants Program.
Funds will be used for state-of-the-art thermal imaging cameras that would function as "x-ray vision" for the firefighters.
The cameras are said to assist in the extinguishing of fires, in rescue operations, and will increase safety for firefighters and civilians alike.
Co-executive director of the NHRFR Jeff Wellz described the equipment as a great advantage.
"I'm ecstatic," he said. "[I want to] thank the government, and Congressman Sires and Senator Menendez who supported our application."The $144k grant is really a shared grant in which the department funds a certain percentage.
NHRFR will supply an additional $36k to the grant funded by the fire department's budget. The total amount of $180k will seek to supply each of the 18 companies with at least one thermal imaging camera.
Chief of NHRFR Brion McEldowney expressed his and the firemen's excitement for the upcoming equipment.
"[The firefighters] I've spoken to are thrilled - the unions are thrilled!" said McEldowney. He added, "I've been hoping for a while to get these cameras, now we have to go shopping and do some research."
Previous grants by the NHRFR have been used to equip firefighters with newly standardized turnout jackets and air packs.
"I've told the union, this is the best piece of equipment we've gotten in order to protect the safety of the firefighters and victims," said McEldowney, "[It] gives us an overall ability to serve the public."
The NHRFR serves five Hudson County municipalities including Union City, West New York, North Bergen, Guttenberg and Weehawken. To date, it is one of the 48 companies in New Jersey to receive a grant from the Firefighter Grants Program's near $4.85 million distribution for the year 2007 thus far.
New technology for old frames
Although Wellz notes that some companies in North Hudson are already equipped with a thermal imaging camera, the main goal is to equip every company with a camera in order to operate the NHRFR in an organized and optimal fashion.
Chief McEldowney said there are currently five thermal imaging cameras in the NHRFR. Standard procedure gives the ladder companies access to the cameras while the engine companies fight the fire.
McEldowney remembers "many, many occasions" when the cameras were used successfully to find hidden fires and victims.
"We want them on all companies so when they [firefighters] get to the scene, they may not need a second or third ladder company," Wellz said, "when you find a fire that much quicker, you reduce the time it takes to extinguish it."
The new equipment works similarly to traditional photo cameras. Where a standard photo camera records an image relative to its emitted light, thermal imaging cameras record an image from infrared radiation.
The warmer the temperature of the object, the more radiation is emitted, making the subject more visible.
Against a still background, the image would show blue for non-heat emitting areas where a heat emitting object would display an orange/red color.
The cameras NHRFR plans to use are very similar to those used by the military. The shared technology records a live feed of an object, similar to a camcorder instead of merely capturing a still image.
According to Wellz, many buildings in North Hudson are "old frame" types, where history shows that most fires originate from electrical fires hidden behind walls.
Additionally, he added, because these types of homes use lath (tapered strips of wood nailed to wall studs), the cameras become "critical" in extinguishing and locating fires.
Thermal imaging cameras allow firefighters to see through walls and smoke, and will also allow them to rescue trapped or unsuspecting victims.
Conventional rescue methods involve a firefighter scouting "every square foot and inch," said McEldowney.
With the new cameras, he said, a firefighter can now stand in the doorway and do what normally takes 15-20 minutes in 10-20 seconds.
The NHRFR says it will also be able to reduce the amount of damage done to a property in the event of searching for hidden fires. Where traditional methods involved opening walls by force, Wellz says the new cameras will be able to pinpoint hidden fires to their exact location and allow firefighters to extinguish those fires, which would have normally spread throughout.
Traditional hand-held thermal imaging cameras range in price from $2,000 up to $10,000 each, and are expected to be bought within the next two to three months.
Comments on this story can be sent to: DSchwaeble@hudsonreporter.com.