Thermal Imaging in 2009 - A List of Resolutions

Ideas to Improve Firefighter Safety and Operational Efficiency


Happy New Year! Hopefully you have made your resolutions for 2009 and are well on your way toward making them a reality. Lose weight, get out of debt, quit smoking, exercise more or seek a promotion. Whatever your goal, I wish you the best with making it happen. It's a new year and a time for many folks to make changes in their lives by making a fresh start.

While I'm sure that few, if any, of you have made any resolutions for 2009 regarding thermal imaging (if you have, I'm a bit concerned), I would like to suggest some. In case you could not come up with any New Year's resolutions of your own, here are some ideas from the world of thermal imaging.

Resolution I Buy one! According to the latest statistics, 54% of all fire departments in the U.S. own at least one thermal imager and 24% plan to buy a thermal imager in the next five years. The remaining 22% have no plans to acquire one. The most-cited reason for the 46% who do not own a thermal imager cost. Many of these departments simply lack the budgetary means to acquire a thermal imager and although prices have come down steadily over the years, purchasing a thermal imager is still a fairly large expense.

Of course, like any piece of equipment, the expense must be balanced against the benefit. Increased firefighter safety and operational efficiency and, most importantly, decreased search times (75% faster according to an independent study) all reinforce the value of thermal imaging. If you don't have one, resolve to get one. You owe it to your firefighters and your community.

Resolution II If you have a thermal imager, use it! Take it with you on every call. Investigations, smoke in the structure, hazmat, auto accidents or whatever the call, your thermal imager can help. If it turns out you didn't need it, you were at least prepared. If it turns out you did need it, you were ready. How many times have you carried an axe "just in case"? A thermal imager should be no different. Remember the "5 Ps" Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Repetition, exposure, interaction and frequency all contribute to better use of thermal imaging. So get it out and use it.

Resolution III Inspect it every day. During morning apparatus checks, give your thermal imager the once over. Check any rubber gaskets to make sure they are pliable and not damaged. Inspect your thermal imager for loose components, cracks or scratches in the display cover and cracks in the housing itself. If you find cracks in the housing, take it out of service and contact your distributor or manufacturer. Cracks in the housing are rare, but getting water inside the thermal imager is a bad idea and firefighting is an inherently wet task. This should be repaired immediately.

Check the germanium at the front and the display at the rear for residue. These surfaces collect residue while inside structure fires, and buildup will diminish picture quality. Clean the imager, germanium and display covers to keep the imager performing at its best. You should contact your manufacturer for specific cleaning instructions, but baby wipes typically do a good job and are safe to use. Whatever you do, do not use carb cleaner, brake cleaner or any other hydrocarbon to clean your imager.

Resolution IV Train with it once a month. Everyone should adopt this resolution. If you have a thermal imager, you must practice with it. Some aspects of thermal imaging are simply intuitive and don't take much thought. Other aspects can get confusing and lead to misinterpretations. Training should encompass specific knowledge of thermal imaging; in general, your department standard operating procedures (SOPs), cleaning/inspecting/maintaining, specific features including temperature sensing, colorization, and digital zoom and application-based, hands-on scenarios.

Use your thermal imager to evaluate buildings during pre-plans or fire inspections. Investigate thermal impressions you do not understand. Develop an extensive understanding of what the imager is doing and how it is doing it. A thermal imager is just a tool. It is not magic. It simply shows temperature differences in order to reveal a displayed image. That image must then be interpreted by a firefighter. The imager is never wrong in what it displays, but image interpretation can be way off. The only way to avoid these misinterpretations is to train and practice. If you are a company officer or training officer, it is incumbent upon you to adopt and implement this resolution.

So there they are. Four simple resolutions to make sure you and your thermal imager have a successful 2009. Get one if you don't already have one and seek outside funding such as grants, private donations, and fundraisers if you need to. Use it on every call. Your TI is not valuable sitting in the charger in your apparatus. It is valuable when it's working and contributing to a successful outcome. Inspect it every day to make sure that it enjoys a long life. Train with it once a month to maintain proficiency and help avoid errors. It's as simple as that.

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