What to know about rear, side fire truck cameras
With bigger fire rigs and improved camera technology, here are things to know before you buy
By Robert Avsec
With the increase in the size of modern fire apparatus has come a greater need to overcome blind spots for the driver.
So it is no surprise that while cameras mounted on the outside of fire apparatus have been around for several decades, they have become a more popular option in just the past several years.
While the majority of vehicle-mounted cameras address the driver's view of the road in front and that behind the apparatus, increasingly fire apparatus is being specified with side-view cameras as well.
In addition to those 360-degree views around the apparatus, fire departments are also having cameras mounted in specialty areas of fire vehicles such as the tip of an aerial or the top of an aircraft rescue and firefighting truck.
When looking to include a rear- and side-view camera system for a new unit, or for aftermarket installation, here are four evaluation factors to consider.
- The quality of monitor images, particularly when used in total darkness. Screens generally range from 7 to 9 inches and are available in black and white or color displays.
- The International Protection rating for the camera housing is represented by two numbers. The first digit is the rating against solid objects; the second represents protection against water, e.g., IP67.
- The impact resistance for the camera housing (measured in G-forces).
- The night-vision capabilities. Most systems use LED technology to illuminate the camera's field of vision and express its capabilities in feet.
Room with a view
Fire departments can purchasing the camera and monitor separate or as a packaged system. Vehicle camera systems come in both wireless and hard-wired configurations; performance results are comparable between both configurations.
A typical fire apparatus camera system has a backup camera and two side cameras. While the vehicle is moving forward, the driver's view from the multi-view monitor (the most popular monitor type) is a split screen showing both the right and left sides of the vehicle.
Using this in conjunction with the vehicle's rearview mirrors gives the driver a much more complete view of other vehicles as they approach and pass on either side of the apparatus.
When the driver activates a turn signal, the camera on that side takes over the monitor. When the turn is finished, the monitor goes back to the split-screen mode.
For their tractor-drawn aerials, some fire departments have two monitors for the vehicle's cameras, one in the cab and one in the tiller, so both operators can view them. With aerial ladders and platforms, departments can have a backup camera on the vehicle and another camera, usually with infrared, at the tip of the ladder or platform.
Side-view cameras can also be used to provide the driver of aerial apparatus with a clear view of outrigger deployment without having to leave the apparatus cab. Those same cameras can provide the driver operator with a clear view of the side of the apparatus when maneuvering in tight situations such as parking lots or narrow streets with vehicles parked on both sides of the street.
The Convoy Technology's industrial-grade, waterproof four-camera system is an example of a newer system that provides the driver with a continuous view of all four sides of the vehicle on one monitor screen.
First introduced last year, Brigade's Backeye 360 provides the driver with a real-time, 360-degree bird's-eye view of the vehicle within a single image.
Brigade offers a choice of 360-degree technologies, both of which work with four ultra-wide-angle cameras that each covers one full side of the vehicle with a viewing angle of over 180 degrees. Mounted high on the front, rear and sides, the calibrated cameras capture all of the surrounding area including the blind spots.
The four live images are simultaneously sent to an electronic control unit where they are instantly processed, combined, blended and stitched. The distortion from the wide-angle camera lens is also corrected before delivering a clear, smooth, real-time image onto the driver's monitor.
The Backeye 360 also includes Brigade's BBS-TEK white sound warning alarms. The sound from these alarms dissipates more easily outside of the hazard area than tonal alarms, making the BBS-TEK models less annoying. At the same time, however, the source of the alarm and the danger is easier to locate in the hazard zone.
The 360 SurroundView from Sentinel Systems is a 360-degree system offering complete camera coverage of the vehicle. Similar to the Backeye 360, the 360 SurroundView system provides a bird's-eye view of the vehicle for the driver operator. Displayed in H-view on a high-resolution in-cab monitor, the German-engineered cameras ensure that individuals or other road users moving around the vehicle are never lost from view.
ASA Electronics has a new Voyager rear-sensor system that uses four backing sensors to that relays data to an in-cab monitor. The user can choose between four camera views and its audio alarm is delivered through the monitor. The unit can be integrated into other Voyager camera systems.