A Final Farewell

This column has been a regular feature in Firehouse Magazine for the past 48 months. That's 48 topics, 48 first drafts, 48 deadlines met and well over 96 editing sessions. Over half of these articles have had an online companion, available at Firehouse.com.

The four-year run has been a challenging, yet exciting path. It's hard to believe, but writing is hard work. Despite the challenges and the occasional head-banging session to eliminate writer's block, I have enjoyed every month of it. The most rewarding time has been when I receive an email from a firefighter who mentions that one of these articles made a difference. Sometimes it's just a word of encouragement from a firefighter who liked a tip in the article. Sometimes a training chief needs help selling a program to his boss. Sometimes it's just a question about how or why a certain thermal imager behaved in a certain way. All of these contacts made all of the work worthwhile.

As you have probably gathered by the different tone of this month's article, there is a change afoot. This month will be the last in which I am the regular author for the column. I believe that the time has come for a new voice and a new perspective. With this article, the baton will officially be passed to Brad Harvey. Brad is the Thermal Imaging Product Manager at Bullard. He is a veteran of public safety as a firefighter, police officer, paramedic and instructor. Brad worked as a high-angle rescue instructor and is a Certified Rescue Technician and Fire Instructor.

My farewell article steals an idea from the Brown Daily Herald, awarding diamonds for praise and coal for shame.

For Firefighters:

  • Diamonds for all you firefighters that bring the thermal imager into every situation you can; you are leaders and understand the safety value of a TI.
  • Coal for all you firefighters that ignore thermal imaging as a valid tool. You are placing your coworkers and yourself at unnecessary risk.
  • Diamonds for company officers who regularly train with the thermal imager. The TI is like every other tool; if you don't use it regularly, you lose the finer skills.
  • Coal for officers and leaders who thing that a 45 minute training program is all the firefighters need. There is so much more to a TI than just changing the battery and turning it on.
  • Diamonds for chiefs who are equipping every apparatus with a thermal imager (or two or three...). You are true leaders.
  • Coal for chiefs who don't buy thermal imagers, or worse, who have a 10-year-old one that doesn't work, just so they can say, "Yeah, we have a TI." If you won't provide the proper safety equipment for your troops, you should hang up your helmet.
  • Diamonds for all you firefighters that spend hours of your own time, educating yourself about thermal imaging, and then develop a quality training program. Training with a TI is critical, and having educated and experienced instructors is critical.
  • Coal for those who sell themselves as experts in thermal imaging, but truly know nothing more than the absolute basics. You're being unfair to our brothers and sisters in the service.

For Manufacturers:

  • Diamonds for the manufacturers that build thermal imagers that the fire service can actually use.
  • Coal for the manufacturers that build unreliable TIs or stack them with loads of useless features.
  • Diamonds for the sales people who are honest with firefighters about performance and features; rare blue diamonds for the sales people who have gone the extra mile to understand thermal imaging technology.
  • Coal for sales people who don't understand what they are selling and who mislead firefighters about what a TI can, or should, do.
  • Coal ash for the sales people who knowingly lie to firefighters.

My Pleas:

  • I plead for firefighters to buy only the options and features that are truly worthwhile on a fireground. Money is too tight to waste on fancy features that look cool in a conference room, but have no practical application in a structure fire.
  • I plead for all of the manufacturers to moderate the information overload occurring with many TIs. Sure, some of the hi-tech features have value on the fireground...but more and more features are included because they can be rather than because they are actually helpful.
  • I plead with the NFPA committee considering a TI standard to re-evaluate what is really needed in a standard. Don't stifle development or mandate so many design features that a thermal imager weighs 12 pounds and costs $40,000.
  • I plead with firefighters to closely review the NFPA thermal imager standard when it is released. If your thermal imager is excellent, but doesn't meet the standard, is it a problem with the TI or with the standard? Vote for good standards; turn down bad ones.

So, as I step down from my soapbox, I hope each of you recognizes yourself somewhere above. If you earned diamonds, don't lose them. Keep pushing to be a leader and to educate yourself. If you earned coal, make a resolution to turn your coal into a diamond...start the steps you need to be a diamond-winner.

It truly has been a joy sharing with you for the past four years. I hope that all of you learned at least one new tip or technique from the series. I also hope that each of you had one "that's cool" moment, where you realized there was a completely new method or manner for using your TI. To those of you who sent questions, comments or compliments on the articles: thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to contact me, keeping me informed of what firefighters need to understand better. It was also reassuring to know that someone, somewhere, was reading what I wrote...and more importantly, learning from it.

And with that, I ask that all of you stay safe. I'm 10-7.

Jonathan Bastian is a Thermal Imaging Specialist for Bullard. He is certified as a thermal imaging instructor by the Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association (LETA). He is also the author of the FD Training Network "FireNotes" book, Thermal Imaging for the Fire Service. Bastian served 12 years on the North Park, IL, Fire Department, including the last three as a captain. He has taught classes on thermal imaging, rapid intervention teams and search and rescue operations. He is currently a police officer in Lexington, Kentucky. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to jonathan_bastian@bullard.com.