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OKLAHOMA firefighters using thermal-imaging technology

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MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) _ More Oklahoma fire departments are starting to take advantage of a technology that allows them to peer through black smoke to find victims and the source of fires.

The Muskogee Fire Department is the latest to take advantage of thermal-imaging cameras. The technology isn't new, but it's spreading quickly through departments across Oklahoma.

The Tulsa Fire Department has seven cameras, while Oklahoma City got its first this spring. Warr Acres has had one for about three years, as has the Sapulpa Fire Department.

Firefighters in Norman, Edmond and Midwest City also have the technology.

But the cameras are expensive. A single unit can cost between $16,000 and $25,000. Only 15 percent of fire departments in the nation have them.

``They are kind of pricey for the smaller departments,'' Muskogee Fire Chief Bob Hutson said. ``But they are worth it ... a wonderful asset. We're thrilled to have one.''

Muskogee firefighters recently proved the worth of the cameras during a multi-building fire. Firefighters had been training with the tool for two weeks.

Just as they had been told it would, the camera led firefighters to the source of the blaze. They were able to extinguish the fire quicker and with less water and smoke damage than before, firefighters said.

Hutson said the hand-held device also can help find drowning victims or those trapped in rubble or cave-ins.

The cameras sense light and heat and can almost immediately show where a fire is inside a structure and how hot it is burning. The cameras can also distinguish between a fire and a victim, picking out a human even when right next to a blaze.

Sapulpa was able to purchase its camera with a grant from the Bartlett Foundation about three years ago, Fire Capt. Kevin Lawson said.

Lawson said the camera helped firefighters find the location of a residential fire caused by a lightning strike.

``Fires can be hidden in walls or attics,'' he said. ``This finds them in a hurry.''
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