As you may or may not be aware, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been hard at work over the last several years developing a standard for thermal imagers. While this work has been tedious and trying, it has resulted in a published standard. NFPA 1801: Standard on Thermal...
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In the case of the 1801 standard, there are several errors in the document that prevent an outside lab from replicating the test called for in the document or using the formulas included in the standard for calculating results, which renders such tests and the results meaningless. So although the standard exists and has been officially published, there is no way to become "certified as compliant." The errors are mostly clerical in nature and none of them are seen as significant hurdles to overcome; however, the errors do render the document impotent at this time. At the time this column went to press, the NFPA was planning to attempt correction via Technical Interim Amendments (TIA) and other measures, but the timing of these corrections was uncertain.
Adding to this complication is the fact that many people in the fire service think that if a standard has been published, then compliant products should also be available. This is almost never the case with NFPA standards. Standard initiations and revisions almost always contain new product requirements, so when a standard is finalized and published, there is typically a lag before the new requirements are integrated into existing products.
Aggravating the situation are the actions of some manufacturers. Although the thermal imaging market is dominated by very capable and reputable manufacturers, miscommunication and misunderstandings will sometimes happen. In the manufacturing world, projects like NFPA standards are often relegated to product managers and development engineers. Communication with the field can, at times, be sparse and incomplete. Whatever the cause, there have been cases of misrepresentation, both on the small scale and the large, where certain company representatives have implied that their thermal imagers are fully NFPA compliant. Nothing could be further from the truth for several reasons:
- There is currently no testing lab anywhere in the world that is prepared to complete certification tests, due to the lack of equipment and validated procedures.
- Even if there was a lab capable, the document still must be corrected so the labs know how to conduct the appropriate tests.
- The requirements of 1801 are set sufficiently high to bar any and all products currently on the market from being certified. Significant development efforts will be required of all manufacturers for certification to be achieved.
Be wary of statements regarding NFPA compliance. Stick to the facts. If someone indicates to you that a thermal imager is indeed NFPA certified, ask to see the documentation. If someone were to indicate to you that a thermal imager is "nearly certified," please keep in mind that it is like saying you are "somewhat pregnant." As far as NFPA certification goes, you are or you aren't. There is no "nearly" or "almost."
A lot of people put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring this standard to fruition. If you have ever been involved in developing an NFPA standard, you understand how grueling a process it can be. Developing standards around technical products is even more tedious as the products and technology are constantly evolving. My hat is off to everyone that worked so hard to complete this task.
Although there are currently no certified products available, there are also no slouches when it comes to manufacturers in this market. This market is dominated by very capable and competent manufacturers who are undoubtedly working their hearts out to produce compliant products. With 1801, the fire service has spoken. It is now our job as manufacturers to heed that call and develop these products.
While there is widespread disagreement over whether the 1801 standard is ultimately a good thing or a bad thing, the fact of the matter is, for good or for bad, it has been published. Part 2 of this column will look at the various requirements that the 1801 standard imposes on thermal imagers. Some requirements you will likely appreciate; others you may not like. Either way, we will explore the details and you can decide for yourself.
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 email@example.com.