By BRAD HARVEY
BRAD HARVEY is the Thermal Imaging Product Manager at Bullard. He is a veteran of public safety as a firefighter, police officer and paramedic and is certified through the Law Enforcement Thermographers’ Association (LETA) as a thermal imaging instructor. Harvey has worked as a high-angle rescue instructor and is a certified rescue technician and fire instructor. If you have questions about thermal imaging, you may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recognizing and mitigating small issues can prevent the development of larger and more expensive repairs.
Given today’s budget environment, necessary equipment repairs can be especially painful. Equipment never seems to break down when coffers are full; rather, it seems that Murphy specifically waits until there are no available funds before he launches his attack. The unpredictability in both frequency and associated costs make maintenance budgets erratic and difficult to plan accurately.
This can be particularly painful for critical equipment. Even though the cost of repair may be high, doing without the equipment is often times not desirable, so the chief has to once again find a way to come up with the money. While there is no way to guarantee that Murphy won’t come calling; certain things can be done to help keep Murphy at bay and even potentially improve the performance of your thermal imager.
• Operational checks – Many departments, as a part of daily apparatus checks, turn on the imager to make sure it is still operational. However, simply turning the imager on, seeing if an image is displayed and then turning it off again offers no real assurance that all is OK. In fact, this type of “check” may actually do more harm than good. The act of taking the battery off of the charger, drawing a very small amount of power from it and then placing it immediately back into the charger can decrease the performance of the battery over time. If the imager was operational when it was returned to the charger after the last use, turning it on is no guarantee that it will turn on the next time. If you are going to perform an operation check of the thermal imager each morning, then really check its operation.
Turn it on and check the image quality. Is it in focus? Focal distance for most fire service thermal imagers is approximately three feet out to infinity. If an object 10 to 15 feet away appears blurry, then it is possible that the focus needs to be adjusted. While it is unusual for an imager to be out of focus, it is not unheard of.
Check the image for clarity. Is there any noise in the image? Noise looks a bit like background static. It is typically fixed and does not change location as the imager is moved.
Does the temperature measurement respond? Does the color activate as expected? Does the imager shift from high gain to low gain appropriately? All three of these can be tested with a stove. If you have a gas stove, a frying pan helps the process along. Turn on the stove and check that all works as expected. If there are any other features of the thermal imager or accessories attached, then make sure these operate as well.
• Power management – A frequent source of complaints regarding thermal imager performance is power. Maybe the batteries don’t run long enough, don’t last long enough or don’t charge fast enough. While the issue of battery maintenance is too complex to cover in this column, there are things you can do to help your batteries perform at peak levels, regardless of their physical condition.
When you get a new battery, check the label to see whether it has a date code on it. If it does not, add one. It is always nice to know how old a battery is since all batteries do have an expected operational life and, while this operational life is variable, age of the battery can help you identify a typical life span for your department so that you begin to predict and plan a replacement cycle.