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Helmet camera at Okla. FD has been ‘beneficial,’ deputy chief says

The fire department is considering purchasing more cameras after receiving positive feedback from firefighters and the public


Jamie Berry
The Norman Transcript, Okla.

NORMAN, Okla. — Residents can take a peek inside firefighters’ job, thanks to the recent purchase of a video camera that can be placed on a helmet.

Norman fire administration purchased and started using a GoPro camera about nine months ago, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wilson said, at a cost of a couple hundred dollars, which came from their maintenance and operation funds.

He said the staff collaborated and thought the idea to buy a video camera for the department would be useful, especially to fire investigators.

Wilson said the camera can be worn on the captain’s helmet when he arrives on the scene. The footage obtained helps document fire conditions upon arrival, determine how far the fire has spread and provide an idea of what firefighters encountered while battling a blaze.

The camera is used primarily on structure and car fires and was used by Fire Station No. 1 several times last year. They aren’t used on medical calls or at wrecks, he said.

“It’s pretty beneficial,” Wilson said.

He said Fire Station No. 1 is the city’s busiest company and is centrally located at 415 E. Main St. Because of that, new equipment is usually tested there first.

Approved footage is posted on social media as a way to encourage others to the firefighting field, Wilson said.

He said some residents enjoy watching firefighters do their job and seeing what they have to go through and the conditions they face.

“The [public] response has been pretty positive,” he said.

Wilson said the department will evaluate use of the camera throughout this year to determine if it is worthwhile to purchase several more cameras.

Capt. Chris Atteberry said he has been using his personal GoPro camera for the last two to three years at the station, so the new camera is usually placed on the front dashboard to record the broader scene. Any footage he gets from his personal camera while at work is considered city property.

Atteberry said during a recent fire on Ferrill Street he used footage from both cameras to edit together a video that was later posted on social media. That was the first time he had used both cameras in a single video.

Atteberry said all footage goes through Wilson and Norman Police Public Information Officer Sarah Jensen, and they determine which videos will be posted online.

Atteberry’s camera is currently mounted on a prototype fire helmet made by MSA Safety Inc., which is designed to fit like a motorcycle helmet, Atteberry said. The company was looking for firefighters to test the helmet, which is regarded as standard in Europe, and he volunteered.

Atteberry served in the Army, and said he is used to wearing a helmet-style hat. However, he only wears the MSA helmet when recording with the camera.

He said he believes some other Norman firefighters have been using personal GoPro video cameras at their respective stations, with about five currently in use.

Atteberry said he feels no different when he is using the helmet cam and sometimes forgets that it is there. The camera turns on using one button, and a battery typically lasts 10 days before it has to be recharged. The new camera kit came with a battery, and Atteberry purchased a battery for his camera. Batteries cost between $25 to $30 apiece.

He said he hasn’t seen behavioral changes from fellow firefighters when he wears the camera because they have to act quickly.

The camera footage helps firefighters review their work and see a visual walkthrough, Atteberry said.

“It’s new for us. It gives us the ability to go frame by frame and adjust and adapt. It’s a great addition,” Atteberry said.

The camera has been used during several significant fires. However, the winter season poses a greater fire risk due to the use of space heaters and fireplaces, Atteberry said.

He said the cameras are nice for review purposes, but he’s not sure if it’s worth the cost to expand use on a large-scale basis across the entire department. The project so far has utilized a small sample size.

With use of a camera on scene, Atteberry said some firefighters may worry about doing something incorrectly, but they need to be willing to look at video footage and learn from it.


©2020 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)