By Ken MacLeod

BILLERICA (CBS) – Sylvia Cabral’s obituary in the local paper paints a modest, simple portrait of the 61-year-old. But her name is now gold over at the Billerica Fire Department.

“Truly a gift,” marveled Fire Captain Matthew Battcock. “It’s really just unbelievable.”

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He’s talking about the Scottish immigrant’s will – only recently squared away despite her death 19 years ago.

Turns out, Cabral left $146,000 to Billerica firefighters – but not for firehouses or trucks. It has to be for “life-saving equipment.”

“Yeah,” said Town Manager John Curran. “This is really unusual.”

Billerica Fire trucks (WBZ-TV)

Cabral lived in a house in Cynthia Road for more than three decades – with no apparent connection to the fire department.

But her death in June 2000 came just six months after one of the most horrific fires in state history.

“She wrote her will just after the Worcester fire,” Curran said.

He’s referring to the inferno at the Cold Storage Warehouse in December of 1999 where six Worcester firefighters died.

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They were first hunting for homeless squatters – and then trying to rescue each other – when they got lost and disoriented in the blinding black smoke.

“It obviously left a huge impression on her,” says Capt. Battcock.

With that in mind, Billerica Fire is buying a bunch of thermal imaging masks, which will allow firefighters to “see” things by heat signature in zero visibility – from debris in their path to victims in need of rescue.

3M Scott Sight Firefighter Mask (Image 3M Scott)

“It is a game changer,” says Capt. Battcock, who explains that his troops currently use hand-held thermal imaging cameras – which tie up one arm and are tougher to decipher at a time when seconds count.

The thermal imaging masks cost more than $1500 apiece and the department has more than 70 firefighters – who will be asked to chip in a few hundred dollars themselves.

“This is equipment that we wouldn’t ordinarily buy,” said Curran, “because it is very, very expensive.”

The frustration – says Curran – is that they haven’t yet found any living relatives to thank.

“That’s the sad part,” he adds.

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But the town is considering some sort of remembrance for Sylvia Cabral, very near the Public Safety Memorial — which they hope will be spared more names because of her gift.

Ken MacLeod