One of the tools firefighters use to see through darkness and thick smoke are thermal imaging cameras. Newton Fire/EMS was recently awarded a grant to replace their cameras, which were fast becoming outdated.

"Some of our cameras were first and second generation cameras, so it was time to upgrade," said Newton Fire/EMS Logistics Division Chief Cory Lehman.

Thermal imaging cameras are commonly used to find hot electrical lines, detect fire in walls and search for people inside burning structures.

"There's a ton of different uses for these things, but for the fire service it's for search and rescue and finding fires in walls and hidden spaces," Lehman said.

By creating a heat signature difference on the lens, thermal imaging cameras give firefighters the ability to pinpoint what they cannot otherwise see.

With the cameras serving such a vital function, the department wanted to upgrade its equipment.

"They were just very obsolete. The picture quality wasn't good," Lehman said.

The department's older thermal imaging cameras had batteries that were wearing out and parts that could no longer be repaired when they broke.

"Typically, we have a replacement schedule of two to three years, but our newest one was from 2010," Lehman said.

Lehman wrote an equipment grant and submitted it to Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, a nonprofit institution that awards grants for life-saving equipment, prevention education, scholarships and continued education, disaster relief and military support. The foundation was formed by Chris and Robin Sorenson, who started the Firehouse Subs restaurant chain.

"The original owners of the company, they were ex-firefighters," Lehman noted.

It took three tries before Newton Fire/EMS was awarded a grant for the thermal imaging cameras.

The department tested several different models before deciding to use FLIR K45 thermal imaging cameras. They now have four new cameras in place, with a total value of $17,500.

The new thermal imaging cameras not only have the latest technology, their design has changed as well. The cameras are attached to lanyards and can be clipped onto bunker gear.

"These are much more portable, I'd say, than our old style," Lehman said. "They're smaller and not as bulky, so people can wear them around their neck if they want."

Firefighters have already been trained to use the new thermal imaging cameras.

"They're rather simple to use," Lehman said.

The new thermal imaging cameras have been installed and are currently in service.

"These newer cameras are much better," Lehman said. "Technology has come so far in the last 10 to 15 years."