Helmets/Hoods, Petrillo, PPE

Helmet and Body Camera Use Increasing in Firefighting Operations

Issue 5 and Volume 21.

Cameras have become ubiquitous in the civilian world, and their use on fire scenes has increased but not as widely as for civilian use.

Some departments are allowing helmet and turnout gear camera use on the fireground, while others prohibit their use because of legal, privacy, or liability issues. While there are a number of types of cameras available to suit firematic purposes, the pro and con issues of helmet and body cameras used by firefighters and officers continue to be discussed in fire departments around the country.

1 The Smart Interface Si500, made by Motorola Solutions Inc., can take videos and photos of a scene, has a visual control screen, and can integrate with computer aided dispatch (CAD) and department records systems. (Photo courtesy of Motorola Solutions Inc
1 The Smart Interface Si500, made by Motorola Solutions Inc., can take videos and photos of a scene, has a visual control screen, and can integrate with computer aided dispatch (CAD) and department records systems. (Photo courtesy of Motorola Solutions Inc.)

Capturing Data

Nathan Rowe, director of intelligence-led public safety for Motorola Solutions Inc., says that the company offers the Smart Interface Si300 and Si500 video speaker microphone (VSM) units that combine voice communication, video, still images, and emergency alerting in a single easy-to-use device. “An extension of the Motorola APX™ radio, the Si300 and Si500 use a smart interface with an integrated remote speaker microphone and body-worn camera in one unit,” he says. “It assures reliable and mission-critical sight, sound, and security by combining audio and video into a single system.”

Rowe notes that the Smart Interface allows the Si300 and Si500 devices to take video or photos of a scene, interview witnesses, and document actions, with all the content being seamlessly integrated into a single workflow that establishes an unbroken chain of continuity.

2 The Tachyon Inc. Full-HD 1080p helmet camera has high dynamic sensors and wide-angle lenses that work well even in low-light situations. (Photo courtesy of Tachyon Inc
2 The Tachyon Inc. Full-HD 1080p helmet camera has high dynamic sensors and wide-angle lenses that work well even in low-light situations. (Photo courtesy of Tachyon Inc.)

To preserve that continuity chain, Motorola Solutions offers the Command Central Vault, a series of apps that can be seamlessly integrated with computer aided dispatch (CAD) and department records systems to tie into a specific incident. “Command Central Vault is a cloud-based storage solution that offers synergies and benefits significant enough to be more cost-effective than for fire agencies to try to do it themselves-especially with the amount of data they might generate,” Rowe points out.

Rowe says that Motorola Solutions worked with midsized fire departments to help develop the Si300 and Si500 units. “We wanted to build products that meet the needs of the fire service,” he notes, “where they are able to use the devices in such a way to enable them to take their paper processes and turn them into digital records. SceneDoc, one of our apps, is designed to run on the Smart Interface devices and allow them to accomplish that transition.”

Training and at the Scene

Raymond Ling, president of Tachyon Inc., says a number of fire departments around the country are using Tachyon cameras, both for training purposes and at fire scenes. “While having cameras at fire scenes might not be popular in some areas of the country,” Ling says, “and in the past some fire chiefs have banned their use, we are seeing more departments beginning to see the benefits of using cameras. Still, there are a lot of obstacles to be overcome in the fire service when it comes to using helmet and body cameras on fire scenes.”

Ling points out that Tachyon’s latest camera being used by fire departments is its OPS Full-HD 1080p camera. “This is one of the smallest and lightest helmet cameras on the market,” he notes. “Our high dynamic image sensors, combined with wide-angle lenses, give users a clear, undistorted helmet camera video, even in low-light situations like one is likely to see on a fire scene.”

The OPS Full-HD 1080p video and audio camera has auto start and stop recording functions at startup and at shutdown, continuously charges while it’s recording, has a high dynamic sensor for low light and night recording, a wide-angle lens for taking in more of a scene, and a looped recording function that overwrites older files after 7½ hours of video recording.

3 The HD170 helmet-mounted camera made by Drift Innovation runs on a lithium ion battery pack and supports a 32-gigabyte memory card. (Photo courtesy of Drift Innovation
3 The HD170 helmet-mounted camera made by Drift Innovation runs on a lithium ion battery pack and supports a 32-gigabyte memory card. (Photo courtesy of Drift Innovation.)

The 1.9-ounce device also has a switchable option to provide a longer recording time at 720p, optional time and date stamps on the video, and an eight-direction mounting system. The unit can handle up to 64-gigabyte (GB) memory cards and has rechargeable batteries that are shockproof for reliability.

ContourHD makes the ContourROAM camera, which is waterproof to 30 feet, has a 270-degree rotating lens, uses laser alignment, has a rechargeable battery, has a 170-degree wide-angle lens, and has a locking instant-on record switch. The company’s Countour+2 model also has mobile connectivity, GPS video mapping, and live streaming but gets its waterproof protection from a separate case.

Ion America makes the Air Pro 3 HD that is waterproof without a case down to 49 feet. The Air Pro 3 HD records high-definition video up to 60 frames per second at 1080p and up to 120 frames per second at 720p. The unit has an eight-point image stabilization package, can store to the cloud, and allows for simultaneous shoot-and-share capability.

4 Ion America offers the Air Pro 3 HD camera that’s waterproof to 49 feet and records video up to 60 frames a second at 1080p. (Photo courtesy of Ion America
4 Ion America offers the Air Pro 3 HD camera that’s waterproof to 49 feet and records video up to 60 frames a second at 1080p. (Photo courtesy of Ion America.)

Drift Innovation offers the Drift HD170 helmet-mounted camera that runs on a lithium ion battery pack, supports a 32-GB memory card, and records in 1080p.

Fire Cam makes the Mini HD fire helmet camera, a unit designed by firefighters. The Mini HD has a heat-resistant glass lens and heat-resistant anodized aluminum case, allowing it to handle temperatures near 900°F. The unit is waterproof to 33 feet. The company also makes the 1080 fire helmet camera, which has the same specs, and the Mini, which can record video in 1080p and 720p.

Legalities

Fire officers considering or using helmet cameras say some benefits include documenting departmental actions and using video in training sessions. However, there are potential negatives associated with their use.

5 The ContourROAM camera has a 270-degree rotating lens, uses laser alignment, and has a rechargeable battery. (Photo courtesy of ContourHD
5 The ContourROAM camera has a 270-degree rotating lens, uses laser alignment, and has a rechargeable battery. (Photo courtesy of ContourHD.)

Rowe points out that “cameras can optically see with much more clarity and capture an event with greater crispness than the human eye can” and also document a fire event for recordkeeping purposes. However, he adds, “One of the challenges is that digital videos in the care of public agencies can become public records and thus be subject to legal scrutiny.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.