NFPA 1801, Standard on Thermal Imagers

Last month, we looked at the origin and development of the thermal imaging standard by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as well as the state of the industry. This month, we will review the result by looking at the document itself...


Last month, we looked at the origin and development of the thermal imaging standard by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as well as the state of the industry. This month, we will review the result by looking at the document itself. While it would be impossible to cover all of the...


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Last month, we looked at the origin and development of the thermal imaging standard by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as well as the state of the industry. This month, we will review the result by looking at the document itself. While it would be impossible to cover all of the details within the space of this column, we will take a high-level look at the various parts of the document. If you want to read the document for yourself, a copy is available at www.nfpa.org.

The first three chapters of the 1801 standard are consistent with many NFPA documents in structure and content, covering Administration, Referenced Publications and Definitions. In the interest of space and attention, we will skip these chapters and go straight to chapters four through eight, which are where more of the rubber meets the road.

Chapter Four — Certification; and Chapter Five — Product Labeling and Information. Chapter Four digs into the nitty-gritty of getting the product certified as compliant to the 1801 standard. While there is nothing extraordinary contained in this chapter, there are several things worthy of note. Section 4.1.3 contains the prohibition against claiming compliance to only a portion of the standard. While this is common to other NFPA standards, as I alluded to last month, several manufacturers have claimed partial compliance with the 1801 standard. Some manufacturers have, for years, advertised that their thermal imagers were compliant with specific sections of the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) standard, which is in conflict with section 4.1.5 of the 1981 standard 4.1.5, which is apparently left up to the customer to catch and admonish.

Chapter Four requires the certification to be issued by a third-party organization that cannot be owned or controlled by the product manufacturer and sets standards for the certification organization itself. Chapter Four also requires annual recertification via random and unannounced testing and sets forth a safety alert and product recall system. Chapter Five is pretty straight forward in the fact that it requires a compliance label be present on the outside of a compliant product and on the wording of such label.

Chapter Six — Design Requirements. Chapter Six is where things begin to get interesting. The first thing to note in Chapter Six is the establishment of two distinct operational modes for the thermal imager: TI BASIC and TI BASIC PLUS. One of the needs identified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) workshop (Amon, Bryner and Hamins, National Institute of Standards and Technology, June 2005, NIST Special Publication 1040, Thermal Imaging Research Needs for First Responders: Workshop Proceedings) was a standardization of user interfaces and TI BASIC is the NFPA attempt to accomplish this.

TI BASIC represents an operational mode where the only requirements are grayscale, white-hot imagery, power source status and overheat indicator. Optional features are restricted to high-heat colorization and temperature sensing only. No other feature can be active in TI BASIC mode. The imager must be equipped with a green power button that, when activated, will always power up the imager in TI BASIC mode. This standardization is intended to create a consistency of operation that would simplify training and allow mutual aid companies to use one another's imagers.

TI BASIC PLUS is a somewhat unrestricted mode of operation with a couple of caveats. TI BASIC PLUS features are not allowed to interfere with the operation of any TI BASIC feature and TI BASIC PLUS mode must be designed to limit access. There is no clear verbiage within the standard as to what this actually means other than you must purposely access the TI BASIC PLUS mode of operation and the language "limit access" is somewhat ambiguous. Other than those restrictions, everything else is relatively fair game with the apparent exception of polarity inversion (black-hot imagery), which is something that I have written about in previous Firehouse® columns. Although currently offered by several manufacturers, polarity inversion is a dangerous feature for a thermal imager and apparently restricted by the 1801 standard. I use the term apparently because I am not a certification organization and cannot make the final determination.

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