Finding Hidden Fires

When my kids were younger, they played hide-and-seek in our house using a thermal imager (yes, my kids get to play with thermal imagers). At the time, my daughter was 9 years old and my son was 4 and the way this would play out was consistent and...


When my kids were younger, they played hide-and-seek in our house using a thermal imager (yes, my kids get to play with thermal imagers). At the time, my daughter was 9 years old and my son was 4 and the way this would play out was consistent and inevitable. My daughter would hide her eyes...


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When my kids were younger, they played hide-and-seek in our house using a thermal imager (yes, my kids get to play with thermal imagers). At the time, my daughter was 9 years old and my son was 4 and the way this would play out was consistent and inevitable. My daughter would hide her eyes, count to 50 and then promptly, within 30 seconds or so, locate my son no matter where he hid in the house. My son would then hide his eyes, count to 50 and then spend the next 30 minutes trying to find my daughter. In fact, I would often find myself thinking that my son would locate her faster if he didn't try to use the thermal imager. Of course, my daughter took great pleasure in tormenting him over his inadequacies. This sequence of events would normally only play out once or twice before my son would get frustrated and stop playing. What was my daughter doing differently to make her so successful?

Normally, when someone calls 911 and requests the fire department, the nature and location of the emergency is obvious. Family members lead us directly to ill patients and auto accidents are easily located by looking for the mangled vehicles stopped at odd angles in an intersection. Structure fires are typically located by the trail of smoke and the orange glow of the fire.

There are occasions, however, when the fire is hidden from view. We've all been there. It's 2 o'clock in the morning. There may be a hint of smoke; there may not. You smell it. That undeniable smell of something burning, but there is no obvious evidence of fire. It may be a residential structure of a large, commercial building. In these circumstances, a thermal imager may be the difference between a successful stop and a defensive operation.

A Wisconsin fire department was sent to the local high school to investigate a smoke odor. On arrival, firefighters learned that repair crews had been performing welding operations in the hallway earlier that day. Although firefighters could smell the telltale odor, no smoke was visible anywhere. A scan of the area with the thermal imager quickly discovered a hot spot just above the site where welding had taken place. Removing the drop ceiling revealed a small fire, which was quickly extinguished with just two water cans.

Saving Time and Money

Proper use of the TI saved the firefighters a great deal of time and avoided significant damage to the building. Had the hidden fire grown undetected, the department likely would have responded in the middle of the night to a full-alarm structure fire. The ceiling in the hallway area required replacement, at a cost just over $8,500. The value of the building alone was in excess of $29 million.

A New Jersey fire department used a TI to not only find a hidden fire, but to identify which house was on fire. A midnight dispatch to investigate a smoke odor outside brought firefighters to the neighborhood, but the absence of smoke and obvious fire left firefighters at a loss. One firefighter noticed a slight haze about one block from the original caller. The captain scanned several houses with the TI. Two houses appeared gray on the TI, but a third had a hot roof and attic that showed as bright white. Further investigation led firefighters to locate an attic fire in this home. The owners were away at the time, and the fire could have gone undiscovered until it was burning through the roof. Instead, firefighters had the fire extinguished within 20 minutes and kept the electrical fire from damaging any major structural members. Proper TI use prevented an extended incident as well as significant property loss.

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