Venerable Amherst Town Meeting will discuss as part of "capital items" $15,000 for the purchase of a Thermal Imaging camera. The hand held cameras allow firefighters to essentially "see" through dense smoke.
The current cameras are ten years old and beyond their rated lifespan--especially considering their routine work environment.
I vividly recall pulling into my Health Club on Saturday morning December 4, 1999 as an Amherst Firefighter was leaving my facility. I simply could not believe that Worcester--the second largest city in Mass--did not have thermal imaging cameras in their arsenal of standard firefighting equipment.
He just shook his head, despondently.
At the height of the Worcester cold storage fire (12/3/99) a commander on the scene issued a desperate dispatch for any surrounding departments to provide thermal imaging cameras as now six of Worcester's finest were unaccounted for in an intense conflagration at an abandoned structure later dubbed "the building from Hell."
They all perished in perhaps the worst state public safety tragedy in history--only eclipsed by the horrific event of 9/11 almost two years later.
A little before that fateful day AFD Chief Keith Hoyle had started a private fundraising endeavor to purchase two thermal imaging cameras (about $15,000 each) for our town fire department and had already garnered $5,000 pledges from Amherst College and Hampshire College.
I immediately volunteered my services and formed the "Eyes of Life" committee to help raise the funds necessary to purchase two of the cameras--target goal $30,000. And I figured with Amherst and Hampshire Colleges on board, Umass should be a slam dunk for an equal amount, thus getting us about half-way there.
Umass pleaded poverty even though at the time they were costing the town over $100,000 in fire/ambulance runs to the campus with no compensation. I did the usual: wrote a scathing Amherst Bulletin column, numerous Letters to the Editor, even took out small ads trying to embarrass the areas largest employer into helping out.
By then dozens and dozens of individual contributors had donated enough to buy a camera--but we still had a fairly long way to go for the two.
Ron Hall, my favorite long-time news journalist with forty years experience at WHMP radio called me at the Club excitedly saying Umass had just issued a press release about their $10,000 donation towards the second camera. I instantly called Umass News Services to get a copy.
On careful reading turns out the "donation" consisted of a marketing coupon--"buy one get the second at half price." And Umass was not buying one or contributing anything towards the half price camera (which was rebuilt). I was insulted, but even more than that--incensed.
Especially when the Chancellor denigrated the numerous folks who actually donated money by bragging the coupon was worth more than "mere money." Well gee there Chancellor Scott, if you can describe money as "mere" than why not come up with some it yourself?
I filed a warrant article with Town Meeting to thank Amherst and Hampshire Colleges while criticizing Umass for basically being cheapskates. Meanwhile the state appropriated money for public safety emergency equipment bringing Amherst $10,000 in a grant to help defray most of the cost of a camera.
Umass did agree to front the $10,000 as the coupon could only be used by them (although I came close to pulling off the deal without the Umass coupon) and I agreed to reimburse them from the "Eyes of Life" fund.
In the end the "Eyes of Life" campaign raised just over $33,000 plus the original $10,000 Chief Hoyle had secured from the two private colleges. And Amherst was safer for it.
READER SEES SMOKE
RE. “USEFULNESS U” [Around the Pond, Fall 2000]: The press release distributed by UMass news services almost required a thermal-imaging camera to see through the smoke obscuring the story of the university’s involvement with “Eyes of Life” a campaign that secured three thermal-imaging cameras for the Amherst Fire Department. Even prior to the 1999 tragedy in Worcester, Amherst and Hampshire colleges had each pledged $5,000 towards an $18,300 camera. UMass, however, orchestrated a “deal” whereby a rebuilt camera could be had for half-price. In other words, their “cooperative effort” consisted of a coupon.
Chancellor Scott’s comment that “the university is committed to employing its resources to benefit the community; in this case, our resources extend beyond mere dollars,” added insult to parsimony. Money spent on a good cause by concerned citizens and institutions denigrated as “mere” begs the question: If you have such a low opinion of “mere money” than why not contribute some like everyone else?
Larry Kelley ’83
The writer owns the Amherst Athletic Club and chaired the “Eyes of Life” committee. The director of the UMass News Office responds:
THE UNIVERSITY’S CONTRIBUTION toward the purchase of an additional thermal-imaging camera for use by the Amherst Fire Department has been clearly stated. Through the efforts of Donald Robinson, director of environmental health and safety, the campus was able to negotiate a cost-savings of $12,000 for a second and more sophisticated model of thermal-imaging camera for use by the town.
That translates into $12,000 that did not have to be spent by anyone for the additional camera, thanks to the UMass contact. Many in Amherst, including the town’s fire chief, have publicly acknowledged the value of the university’s involvement and its very real contribution to this effort.