The "Five Deadly Sins" Of Thermal Imaging

Every month, this column emphasizes how a thermal imager can make a firefighter’s job easier and safer. This month’s column is part one of a two-part series concentrating on training firefighters to use their thermal imagers in a safe, appropriate and...


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Deadly Sin 2 – Abandoning traditional safe-search techniques. The restricted visibility from smoke that firefighters typically experience in structure fires helps deter them from overextending themselves; however, a firefighter with a thermal imager does not have restricted visibility. The ability to “see” can raise the confidence level, often tempting the firefighter to engage in higher risk operations or to ignore danger signs.

Firefighters cannot confuse “visibility” with “safety.” Operations that are conducted with a hoseline or ropeline without a thermal imager should be conducted with a hoseline or ropeline even with an imager. Search patterns must still be consistent and easily reversible. At any point, a thermal imager could become unusable from loss or failure and firefighters must always be able to navigate their way out – with or without a thermal imager. Firefighters still must keep a mental map of the structure, ensuring they are aware of their approximate location inside the structure as well as their primary and secondary egress points.

To address safety concerns in hostile environments, supervisors must ensure that firefighters perform searches with and without a thermal imager. By incorporating the imager with other operations, leaders can emphasize that it is a tool to help with that function, not intended as a standalone operation. All training evolutions must be monitored by instructors or supervisors. Ideally, this is done with another thermal imager, so leaders have a means of verifying that safe habits are reinforced.

Thermal imager-based training should include random simulations of equipment failure. Instructors can take the imager (simulating loss) or remove its battery (simulating failure), then order the firefighters to continue operations or evacuate. By emphasizing both options, firefighters will learn that they can continue their work despite the loss of a thermal imager. By training regularly without thermal imaging as an aid, firefighters will also remain proficient with their standard skills in the event that no imager is available at an incident. n

Next: Three more “Deadly Sins”