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RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Catoosa County firefighters got a look at the future Tuesday and it appeared grainy and an eerie black and white.

County officials and a crew of firefighters tested thermal imaging cameras, which help emergency workers see through smoke by reading and displaying heat signatures coming from items.

The camera's sensor may show the empty part of a room as black, but will pick up on body heat or fires, helping crews rescue victims and avoid hidden blazes.

Emergency officials said they'd like to see the cameras someday become part of the regular gear for firefighters.

"It's a good tool for the bad times," said Jeff Whidby, of Georgia Fire and Rescue Supply, during his sales pitch.

The cameras have been used in search-and-rescue operations, locating fires in walls or attics, sizing up a fire from outside the building and looking to see if fuel tanks are full or empty, Mr. Whidby explained.

Firefighters tried out the cameras by starting a fire in the bedroom of a house that soon will be torn down at the Catoosa Commerce Center on Georgia Highway 151. Once the thick smoke from burning hay filled the room, they tested the camera's abilities, using it to peer through the smoke and find each other.

Fire Chief Chuck Nichols said the county hopes to buy a few of the lower-end models, which cost about $4,500 each. Even though they don't have as many features as the high-end cameras, the county can buy more of them, he said.

The department already has three thermal imaging cameras and County Manager Mike Helton said any additional units would be paid from the fire department's section of the Special Local Option Sales Tax.

"We're trying to put more cameras in more firefighters' hands," he said.

Mr. Whidby also described the camera's possible uses for law enforcement. A few weeks ago, sheriff's deputies found a man running from police after dark by scanning the area he was last seen. The space around the man showed up black while his body heat glared bright white as he hid.

Two representatives from the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office also were on hand for the Tuesday's demonstration.

"I can see where it would be helpful, especially outdoors," said Capt. Scott Jordan.

Chief Nichols agreed.

"It's certainly a tactical advantage or else we wouldn't be looking at it," he said.

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