Fairfield's firefighters have begun training with new equipment that has the technology to rapidly locate lost or trapped firefighters.

All of the Fire Department's on-duty personnel got a chance to use the new thermal-imaging camera that has PAK Tracker, a personal locating system, during recent training exercises at the Elias Training Center.

The system goes into an alarm when it receives emergency signals from firefighters who are in distress. Should a firefighter equipped with breathing apparatus that utilized the new technology collapse, become trapped or disoriented, they can activate their air pack's PAK Tracker system. Once activated, the new thermal-imaging camera will receive a signal, alerting the operator which firefighter is in trouble and their approximate location.

"The addition of this new camera was the second phase of a large-scale operational and respiratory protection upgrade," said Lt. Schuyler Sherwood. The system reduces the amount of time needed to locate a lost or trapped firefighter, he said, increasing a firefighter's chance of survival.

The first phase of the upgrade began last November, when the department put in service 53 air packs equipped with the ability to transmit distress signals to the tracker system.

The third and final phase, which Sherwood said is the most critical, should occur this summer when the department acquires the respiratory protection accountability system. "This system will allow firefighters who are operating on the fire ground to have all of their major respiratory protection life safety components managed from outside of the fire building," he said.

Once the new system is acquired, the incident commander and safety officer at the fire scene will be able to track all of the firefighter's critical functions, including their available air, air usage rate, current location, operational status, and any received distress signals.

"This system will allow the Fairfield Fire Department to come into full compliance with nationally recognized safety standards for fire ground management, respiratory protection and firefighter accountability," Sherwood said. "The addition of this system will make it virtually impossible for a firefighter to be lost or out of air without the incident commander having knowledge of it."

The air packs were purchased with a $222,600 FEMA grant. "We saw these advances coming and starting doing the ground work to update our equipment a few years ago," Fire Chief Richard Felner said.