Fla. ambulances get 360-degree cameras

The cameras should improve safety by giving fire truck and ambulance drivers a way to see what is going on outside of their vehicles

The Sun Sentinel 

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Boca Raton paramedics may soon have a new view of the city's busy streets — a 360-degree view to be exact.

To better avoid backing over something or side-swiping other vehicles, Boca Raton Fire Rescue is requesting the city approve funding for high-tech cameras on 10 ambulances. The department would be the only one in Florida to use the camera system, which provides a complete surround view of vehicles in real time.

The City Council will decide during a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at city hall whether to put up $28,500 for the equipment. Palm Beach County has agreed to reimburse the city for the entire expense.

City Manager Leif Ahnell said the Backeye 360 Select camera system will enhance emergency services by providing a safer environment for patients and providers.

"The system allows a 360-degree view around the ambulance/medic unit, which will enhance safety at the emergency scene, the hospital and the station," Ahnell said in a memo to the council members. "The system will also allow the driver to see all obstacles, people and hazards surrounding the vehicle."

U.K.-based Brigade Inc. developed the technology three years ago. And the camera system has been available in the U.S. for two years, with a sales office in Indiana serving all 50 states.

Linsey Foerg, who does sales support out of the Indiana office, said less than 10 fire departments in the country use the technology, and Boca Fire Rescue is the only one in Florida.

"We think the fire trucks are a perfect application for it," Foerg said. "Our primary customers now are in waste management."

The system is made up of four cameras: one mounted on the front of the vehicle, one on the back and one on each side. Each camera is about 1-inch-by-1-inch and provides a 180-degree view.

"All four cameras run through a central computer that gives a complete bird's-eye view of the vehicle," Foerg said.

A screen inside the vehicle simultaneously displays both the 360-degree view as well as a view from any one of the cameras. "With this system there are no blind spots," Foerg said.

The department first learned of the technology at a safety convention in Orlando in December 2014, assistant fire chief Michael LaSalle said. A few months later, the department applied for a grant to buy the equipment. In January, the department learned it had received the money.

"The trucks are getting bigger and bigger each year, so we just want to add additional safety," LaSalle said.

While waiting to hear on the grant, the department went ahead and spent $14,000 of its own budget on cameras for five ladder trucks. Those cameras were installed this week.

"The trucks already have cameras for the back, but this will give a full picture of the sides as well," LaSalle said. "They're very small. They mount under the side mirrors."

LaSalle said the view from the cameras is comparable to what one would see from a drone flying overhead. Firefighters and medics will still follow the same procedure for backing the vehicles up, meaning one person, wearing a safety vest, will guide the process.

If given the nod of approval from the council, LaSalle said he hopes to have the 10 cameras installed onto the ambulances within a month.

"We're just trying to keep up with technology to keep our firefighters and the public safe," LaSalle said. "It's just an additional safety piece for us."

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