GLENDALE, AZ — As those who work in environments full of smoke and flames, firefighters are used to operating in conditions where sight itself can be a luxury.
"Frequently there is zero visibility or low visibility, it makes it very difficult to find the origin or the fire or if there are any victims inside it can be a real challenge," said Patrick Hourihan. "We use our hands and our other senses to try and find the victims, to try and find the heat, the source of where that fire's coming from."
Even with constant training that includes blacking out their masks in practice, the risk is exceptionally high.
"We learn to search very quickly, it's our greatest priority, but it does take time," said Hourihan.
Last Tuesday, Glendale firefighters raced into a home off 43rd Avenue and Glendale fully engulfed in flames.
Mark Lawrence lives across the street and watched as firefighters desperately searched for his disabled neighbor inside.
"I saw smoke coming out of the front door, they had it open by that time, and I could see there was smoke coming from the backyard as well," said Lawrence. "I thought that they had got to them before they were seriously injured but I didn't know, based on the smoke you don't know what kind of condition they're in."
As darkness filled the home, firefighters broke out their new tool, a thermal imaging camera capable of seeing what they can't.
Our eyes see objects using reflected light, but when there isn't any, as in smoke-filled structures, thermal imaging picks up radiated energy--which is always visible with the right tool.
"The thermal imaging camera identifies the fluctuations in temperature," said Hourihan. "Because of technology and the support from our city, we've been able to introduce the cameras to every one of our members and firefighters."
The cameras allow firefighters to see where the fire is coming from, whether it be in the wall or attic. More importantly, they can find those in need of saving.
"You can see that the impression left behind by the victim is still easily identifiable," said Hourihan demonstrating how the camera picks up heat signatures from handprints and even a person sliding against a wall.
It's those clues that firefighters will follow that eventually lead them to the victim.
Which in the case in Glendale helped give a woman a second chance at life.