And since hotter objects appear more white on the screen, the cameras can also be used in nighttime search and rescue operations for people lost in the hills, or to find hotspots in building walls, Glendale Capt. Jim Frawley said.
"They are an incredible tool for life-saving and for property-saving," he said.
Firefighters were on hand at Fire Station No. 21 in Glendale Thursday to receive an oversized check for the $22,000 donated by Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. through the Glendale office of insurance agent Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
"This gift that you're giving us will truly save lives," Glendale Deputy Fire Chief Steve Howard said.
The Glendale Fire Department currently has one top-of-the-line thermal imaging camera assigned to three fire ladder trucks, which typically see more search and rescue calls, Frawley said.
As the department slowly buys more of the new cameras, they will be paired with the smaller fire engines, he said.
"Our hope is that every fire engine will have this imaging camera," he said. "They really provide a tremendous pool of resources for firefighters to use when they respond to a fire call."
But at almost $10,000, the cameras can present fire officials with a hard decision, since the cost approaches that of other valuable tools, said Scott Smith, a spokesman for Fireman's Fund.
"Ten thousand dollars can buy new communications equipment, or it can fund a new part-time position," Smith said. "It's a tough choice."
That's why grants that supplement tight budgets can come in handy, said Cathy Borowski, executive vice-president of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
"We left it up to them on what their biggest need was when we gave them the grant," she said.
Despite all of their trumpeted value to firefighters, just one-fourth of fire departments nationwide have the cameras, according to a joint survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Fire Protection Assn.
That has prompted a push for the cameras through grants from Fireman's Fund to local fire departments, said Atle Erlingsson, spokesman for the insurance company.
"There's been a general interest from the Fireman's Fund to get these thermal imagery cameras into the hands of firefighters because they're so effective," he said.