Finding funds to fight fire

Jennifer Dostal

It was Andrew Hefflefinger’s turn to see the heat.

With his dad, several TV crews and members of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity looking on, 12-year-old Hefflefinger presented Ames Mayor Larry Curtis the first of two thermal imaging cameras to be used by the Ames Fire Department.

Thermal imaging cameras speed search and rescue operations because they let the firefighter “see” a victim’s body heat in thick, black smoke. Without the camera, rescuers can come within inches of victims and never see them.

“It’s going to get people out so we can use CPR on them, and put out fires quicker,” said Ames Fire Chief Mike Childs.

Andrew got the idea for purchasing the cameras from a program on NBC’s “Dateline” about some children who were killed in a fire when they hid under a bed where firefighters couldn’t find them.

Andrew and some friends made canisters for small donations and distributed them to area businesses. Then he wrote letters to Childs, Curtis and the Ames Parent-Teacher Association.

Students from Kate Mitchell School, Andrew’s grade school, teamed up with firefighters and went door-to-door collecting donations.

Childs said about $1,500 came from Andrew’s canisters, but the city council needed $18,000 to buy one camera. The department also wanted one camera for each of Ames’ two fire stations so that a camera would be available within two to three minutes of a call.

The cameras had been written into the department’s budget for next year, but the fire department needed several other things also, Childs said.

“I saw the concept of the fundraiser as a way to get the units in service a couple of years earlier,” Childs said.

The fund raising hasn’t ended, but the $36,000 goal is getting very close. All that separates the fire department from the second camera is $8,000, which Childs expects to have by the end of the month, he said.

The fund raisers only need $4,000 more in donations because the city council has been matching all donations to the project.

Childs said he and the city council members decided to go ahead and buy the first unit before all the fund raising was complete because they were so important to search and rescue operations.

“This piece of equipment is so important as a lifesaving tool that we couldn’t wait to purchase both units at the same time,” Childs said.

The members of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and Alpha Gamma Delta sorority pledged the proceeds from their annual Pole Sit, which takes place April 11-18, to the purchase of the second camera.

Chris Dudding, a sophomore in construction engineering, said the fraternity decided to support Andrew’s project because 15 years ago the Phi Gamma Delta house burned. While no one was injured in the fire, the house was gutted.

The fraternity members, whose house has since rebuilt, wanted to repay the Ames Fire Department for its past efforts.

“It’s a great way to help pay back the fire department for all their help,” said David Chubb, a freshman in hotel, restaurant and institution management and member of Phi Gamma Delta.