Published: Feb 05, 2014 6:20 PM EST
Updated: Feb 05, 2014 6:35 PM EST

CAPE CORAL, Fla. - When seconds count and your life is in danger, the Cape Coral Fire Department has two special devices that come to the rescue in the dark.

WINK News discovers thermal imaging technology used in the military and law enforcement is pushing fire-fighting and rescue to the next level.

What looks like a strange sort of binocular is called a FLIR, known as forward looking infrared. They're used on the department's marine units. The FLIR can locate a person or a boat that's drifting in the dark, in seconds. 

"This is able to pick up anything that's warm," explained engineer Jim Gunter. 

The fire department has two FLIR units, both purchased with grant money in 2012. Something similar is the thermal imaging camera called a TIC. The department has more than a dozen of these, one for every engine.

They are mainly used in the dark or in a smokey environment, when you can't see a person with your eyes but you can see the heat of their body.

Both devices even pick up traces of body heat. When a firefighter pulls his hand away from the wall, you can see the imprint. 
The FLIR is used for long-distance searches, while the TIC is for up-close and indoors. 

"Whether its inside a burning building, or out in the water, we have the capabilities and the technology to be able to save lives quickly, based on an effective and rapid search and recovery of a victim," said fire dept. spokesman Michael Heeder.  

"I was here before we had anything like this. And we got by using searchlights, or things like that. This just amplifies what you can see so much better," said Gunter. 

While thermal imaging technology has long been used in the military, it took quite a while before it was used in the fire service, simply because of its cost. May 2002, the Cape Coral Fire Department bought its first TIC for $10,000. As the technology improves, the prices are dropping.