At any incident, a thermal imager may enhance firefighter safety. One prominent capability related to safety is that the thermal imager helps the firefighter monitor structural integrity in low visibility. The imager may confirm that a building has truss-roof construction, it may show damaged or missing trusses and it will help firefighters identify holes in the flooring or high heat below them. With proper training, firefighters can even identify the thermal layer and recognize pre-flashover conditions, avoiding injury by “seeing” the danger coming before it happens.
• Accountability – The ability to keep track of one another in a smoke-filled environment is another important safety benefit. It is far too easy to become separated and disoriented inside a burning structure. A thermal imager can help to keep the crew in contact with one another and look out for one another when things become hectic or the unforeseen occurs.
• Wildland firefighting – Outdoors, thermal imagers can monitor personnel and vehicles to provide safety from fire as well as from vehicles moving in poor visibility. From an elevated position, a thermal imager can help determine the exact fire line and monitor hot spots. This information aids in the deployment of resources and assists in accountability.
• Hazardous materials – A hazmat incident can be an excellent opportunity to use a thermal imager. The vapor space above a material often creates temperature differences that can be detected on the outside of a container. A hazmat team can then identify the level of a liquid or solid material held in a container. These differences could allow the hazmat team to monitor or evaluate an incident that involves a sealed or pressurized container, such as a tanker trailer or propane tank.
The hazmat team can also use a thermal imager to identify a spilled material, since it will likely have a different temperature than the ground or water on which it is spilled. This temperature difference makes it traceable and visible with the thermal imager. In the right circumstances, concentrated gases may even be visible to the thermal imager.
• EMS – Most fire departments respond to many more emergency medical calls than fires. They can use a thermal imager to help any time the human eye fails. At vehicle accidents, a thermal imager could help find ejected victims, even in heavy fog or at night. You could use a thermal imager to help rule out that a child safety seat was occupied prior to an accident.
There are many other uses. Thermal imaging restores a firefighter’s sense of sight in the thickest smoke or darkest environment, with capabilities limited only by the creativity of the firefighter. Thermal imagers have proven themselves as critical tools for fire departments around the world. They offer tremendous advantages to firefighters in a variety of environments.
If you do not own a thermal imager, please seriously consider how it might help. If you do own a thermal imager, please make sure that you are getting the most bang for your buck. In order for a thermal imager to help protect a firefighter, it must be present. It cannot be “not in the budget” or still on the truck. It must be in a firefighter’s hand doing the job it was meant to do. Your firefighters deserve nothing less.