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East Texas fire marshal fighting for helmet cams

Published: Dec. 11, 2014 at 9:36 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 11, 2014 at 10:11 PM CST
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This is what a fire cam looks like. (Source: KLTV Staff)
This is what a fire cam looks like. (Source: KLTV Staff)

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - The Smith County fire marshal is fighting for helmet cameras for all firefighters in the department.

Law enforcement officials using body cameras are becoming more common. In November the Tyler Police Department announced they would be supplying all officers with body cams, but the fire marshal explained it is vital for firefighters to dawn cameras, too. He said the pivotal moment came after one East Texas fire fighter was badly burned while fighting a house fire, but it just so happened another was wearing a helmet cam.

Almost a year after it happened, the video is still upsetting for Fire Marshal Jay Brooks.

"It absolutely rips my heart out every time I have to watch that video."

We can't show it because that fire is still under investigation, but it is of a January house fire that sent Lindale Firefighter Joe Yeakley to the hospital with severe burns. He would spend the next several months recovering.

"Even though it doesn't actually show the rescue it does have some shots that are very difficult to watch," Brooks said. "I mean to see the fire and the conditions, you know, it's very difficult."

As difficult as it may be, Brooks said, it's something he's grateful was captured on camera.

"If I had the funding tomorrow every one of my officers would be wearing a body camera."

Caleb Snider was the firefighter wearing the helmet camera that night. He often uses the camera to teach other firefighters.

"This is what we did. This is what we need to do better and I've got this video here and we can look at it," Snider explained.

Snider didn't realize bringing along what he called his "new toy" would prove so powerful at that Lindale fire.

"It was definitely a reality check for all of us," Snider said.

Learning from his footage helped investigators determine a timeline of events, progression of that fire, and even aided medical professionals working on Yeakley.

"That's how we know how long firefighter Yeakley was inside that structure burning and that is based on radio traffic and based on that video," Brooks explained.

It has been critical in the investigation and helpful in learning what to do differently next time.

"It allows us to kind of estimate those things better so that when we're providing our report we can provide information that will help researchers to better protect firefighters in the future," the fire marshal said.

He explained fighting fires is a science from which you can learn. With each blaze more information to prepare and see how things burn.

"If we don't fix something. If we don't get better then Joe's injuries were in vein and I don't think Joe would want that. Joe would be the first one to stand up and say, you know what, let's learn."

That's why, though difficult to watch, he turns it on time and time again.

The fire marshal is looking at future budgeting options to be able to afford helmet cameras. They cost an average of $200 per camera, plus special add-ons that make them heat and waterproof. He said like police body cams, helmet cams protect the fire fighters in many situations and hold them accountable, but also protect the public when it comes to better training their fire fighters.

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