Achieving Integration

 


  November and December always seem to be busy months in the request department. Every year, it seems I get inundated with messages from training officers setting the upcoming year's training schedule and looking for ideas for thermal imaging training or the simple fact that colder weather...


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November and December always seem to be busy months in the request department. Every year, it seems I get inundated with messages from training officers setting the upcoming year's training schedule and looking for ideas for thermal imaging training or the simple fact that colder weather leads to more indoor, lecture-based training. The most frequent requests I receive are for technical information or Power-Point support. Very rarely do I get asked something like, "How can I use a thermal imager during size-up?" or, "How can I use a thermal imager during vertical ventilation?" Why is this?

I spoke with an instructor at a large metropolitan department the other day who was relaying a situation he had encountered as a member of the department's water rescue team. He described being assigned to a bridge downstream from where two swimmers were thought to have entered a swollen stream after heavy rains. It was dark outside and a steady rain continued to fall. He described their attempts to get enough light onto the water below to effectively monitor for a passing victim. I asked him whether they used their thermal imager. He stared at me for a second before responding, "I never thought of that!"

I know this individual well. He can thoroughly explain very complicated technical aspects of thermal imaging. In fact, he is one of the most knowledgeable firefighters I know when it comes to the technology. He is an advocate for thermal imaging and his department has used it almost since the very beginning, yet he never thought to deploy the thermal imager in this situation. Why, you ask? The answer is simple — despite his advanced knowledge, the thermal imager was never integrated into the water rescue operations.

Set-Aside Training

The prevailing approach seems to be, if a department conducts thermal imaging training at all, to set aside one or more trainings each year that focus on thermal imaging. These sessions often seem to spend a large portion of the training time on many of the technical aspects of the imager, such as detector sensitivity and gain states, and a relatively small portion of the time on myriad applications. The predominant attitude toward training seems to be, "put all of the firefighters in a room and explain all of the technical aspects so that these firefighters truly understand how the technology works because if they understand how it works, they will know when to use it." My question is simple, "How's that working for you?"

This approach dominated thermal imaging training for years. Articles, books, conference lectures and manufacturer training all seemed to focus on the technical, but thermal imagers have evolved so far in such a short period that many of these things are no longer relevant. The technical aspects change so rapidly that technical training can often be dated within 12 months, but what is the goal of training? Is it a better understanding of Noise Equivalent Temperature Difference of the pixels in the detector or is it wider, safer implementation on the fireground? There is a better approach.

Integrated Training

Rather than set thermal imaging aside as a separate topic, I would suggest you go to the other extreme. Make thermal imaging a topic at every training session. Are you training on forcible entry? Include the thermal imager. Are you training on primary searches? Include the thermal imager. Are you training on water rescue? Include the thermal imager. Start treating the thermal imager as if it actually belongs in the standard-issue toolbox.

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