Trics Of The Trade: Search Camera

Nov. 13, 2006
By looking around inside the debris pile we may be able to determine if there are any viable victims in this general location.ystem

By looking around inside the debris pile we may be able to determine if there are any viable victims in this general location.

The Searchcam victim location system is another valuable tool to have in our cache when we respond to a building collapse. Whether the collapse is from a fire, tornado, an earthquake, or explosion, a hurricane or any other type of major emergency like subway or train derailment, if void exploration is going to be an option where we suspect viable victims are in need of rescue, this type of tool will be of great value.

This tool is designed for void insertion through holes as small as 1.75 inches and allows full 360 viewing in full color with audio. Although the camera will only articulate 180 degrees, rotating the whole apparatus will afford the 360 degree viewing area. This camera can be an awesome tool when used properly for locating and/or speaking to victims buried beneath debris and unable to free themselves.

Once again, I am speaking about this specific tool because this is what I train on and know about. There are other tools out there that will do a similar task and if you are in the market to purchase one, please do your research to determine which tool is most suited for your specific application. The Searchcam 2000 with audio by Search Systems is what we will discuss this month. (see photo 1)

This tool is unique in that we can insert this in to voids to look and listen to make a preliminary determination on whether we should start a void search in this area or continue looking in other areas for viable signs of life. By looking around inside the debris pile we may be able to determine if there are any viable victims in this general location. In addition, with the listening capabilities we can turn up the volume to listen for moaning, groaning, or breathing sounds. Just as we discussed last month with the Delsar listening device, when listening we need to call for an "all quite" when homing in on sounds that we suspect are live victims.

The Searchcam is made to with stand rain and weather, but is not made to be submersed into fluids and it will conduct electricity. Should you come in contact with a live wire with the probe while searching you could be electrocuted, therefore, as per normal SOG's, it is our responsibility to verify that all power sources have been terminated. That includes any overhead lines that may cause a problem.

The Searchcam is also not intrinsically safe. This system can not be used in any type of a flammable environment, so we must therefore verify that the atmosphere is free of explosive gasses and flammable liquids prior to operating the system. Failure to assure that the atmosphere is free from flammable gasses or liquids may result in an explosion and guess who is standing at the initiation point.

To activate the system, depress the lowest lever on the hand grip to power up. (see photo 2) Hold the lever down until the system is activated. When turning the system off, depress and hold the lever for about three seconds, this feature prevents accidental shut down during use. The probe is where the camera, lights and transmitter/receiver are located. (see photo 3)

The camera is equipped with an electronic auto-shutter that will adjust to the various lighting levels that will be encountered; such as going from day light to darkness. The illumination system is controlled by depressing the second lever down from the top. It is a toggle type of lever and you can increase or decrease the amount of light in increments. To move the camera the first lever on the grip is toggled left or right. You will have to be aware of the forces generated when moving the camera, the articulating joint can only take so much force and once an obstruction is met you must stop the movement. To much force will break the joint and place the whole system out of service.

To listen for sounds, you will have to adjust the volume control on the headset, located on the lower right side ear muff. (see photo 4) Start at a low setting and increase as you try to detect sounds. Should you come in contact with a victim while searching with this device, you can speak to them by depressing the fourth lever on the grip; this is the "push to talk" lever. It makes no difference which direction you depress this lever; it will activate the speaker in both positions. Speak into the microphone in a normal conversational tone for the best results. The lever must be released to listen for a reply.

The camera can be extended by releasing the clutch collar and pulling the handle section out. (see photo 5) You will need to feed the wire through the back of the unit when doing this. There are two collars and the extensions can add an additional five to six feet on to the existing four feet you already have. There is also an option available that will give the ability to extend the camera probe over twenty feet.

The display on this system has some great features that will help you to keep track of your probe, battery, amount of light you are emitting, and camera orientation. (see photo 6). The display is attached to the top of the apparatus by way of a quick connect/release fitting making it easily removable if necessary. It also has the option of adding extension cables so an additional display can be viewed up to thirty feet away and can also be hooked up to a recorder for viewing later during critique or training. The video display has a hood to shield it from bright light that may make it difficult to view. The features on the display include:

  • Battery Saver Mode: This is a feature that will shut down the system after it has not been in use for ten minutes. A symbol of a clock will appear in the upper left corner of the display and begin flashing in the final minute before shut down. To prevent shut down, depress the lamp or articulation lever to reset the timer. The system always starts in the battery saver mode. To shut this off depress and hold the articulation switch to the left and the illumination switch to the right when turning on the system.
  • Battery Level: In the upper right corner of the display screen there is a battery status indicator. When the battery is nearing complete discharge the symbol will begin flashing, indicating to the operator that the battery need to be changed. While we are talking about the battery, it is a high impact, no spill, encased system with a belt clip attached. (see photo 7) It will give you a minimum of 3 hours operational time which is plenty when you consider the battery is charged in less than three hours, thereby giving one charged battery at all times.
  • Camera Head Articulation: The articulation is controlled by the first lever switch on the grip. Depressing to the left or right moves the camera head in that direction. The camera head is only capable of moving to 90 degrees in either direction. The camera head position is indicated by a status bar on the bottom of the display screen. Flashing arrows will indicate that the head has reached its travel limit in that particular direction. The actual position of the head is indicated by the bar graph in 15 degree increments and the arrows at the center of the graph indicate direction of travel. An asterisk in the center of the bar indicates that the head is in line with the probe to within 7.5 degrees. When the system is shut down the camera head will automatically return to the center position before the batteries turn off.
  • Illumination: When the illumination lever is activated a symbol will appear in the upper row of the display screen once the lamp is on. In addition, an illumination symbol will appear in the center of the display screen for about 5 seconds when the lamp is first activated.

This system is designed to function in temperatures as low as 14 degrees and as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. When using the system in temperatures below 32 degrees it is recommended that you try to put the system in to an area that will provide some warmth, like a heated vehicle or other shelter. It is also recommended that you give the apparatus a warm up period in freezing temperatures and you can give the battery just enough warmth by keeping it under your coat for optimal operation time. And at the other end of the spectrum, the system will work in a hot environment, but the higher the temperature the greater the strain on the components, and under no circumstance should the system be used in areas exceeding 140 degrees.

As with all tools, once you are finished using the system it should be thoroughly cleaned and stored properly after a post incident inspection. It comes in a hard, water tight, dust proof case for protection when stored. And I should remind you that when storing almost any tool that uses batteries, it is best to store the apparatus without the batteries installed. By storing the tool with the batteries installed, it tends to allow the batteries to corrode and wears them down which could compromise the tool and its contacts.

Once you acquire a tool like this, you must practice and drill to become proficient. (see photo 8) If you are breaking out this tool, things are bad and time may be limited. When doing void search with a tool like this, there may well be tons of debris to go through, creating significant challenges. Practice, practice, practice. If you are going in to an event that is of a staggering magnitude, you should have confidence in your equipment, confidence in your knowledge, and confidence in your experience. The only way you are going to have this is by drilling. 

Captain Tony Tricarico has been a member of the fire service since 1977 and was hired by the FDNY in 1981. Tony has served in the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Since 2002 he has been assigned to the Special Operations Command and currently serves as Captain of Squad 252.

Tony is a nationally certified instructor as well as a New York State Certified Fire Instructor, is an adjunct instructor at the FDNY Technical Rescue School, a Deputy Chief Instructor at the Suffolk County Fire Academy, and additionally instructs and lectures throughout the country on a Engine, Truck, RIT and Special Operations tactics and procedures. He has been featured in FETN and American Heat training video's on collapse, elevator operations and SCBA emergencies. He is an active member of the Mount Sinai Volunteer Fire Department on Long Island and a former Chief of Department.

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