In February's Firehouse Magazine, the thermal imaging training article addresses a question about company officers not wanting to use thermal imagers. The article gives tips on how to ensure the TI is used more frequently. Online, we'll review a success story from the Midwest.
A career department, divided into two battalions, purchased two thermal imagers. One was assigned to each battalion chief, under the philosophy that the chiefs go to every fire; therefore, they were sure to get the TIs to every fire. After many months operating under this deployment model, they realized that the TIs were not being used.
At each and every fire, the chiefs were busy doing chiefly duties, and the fire companies were busy doing fire duties. Since the chiefs were not going inside, they never thought to grab the TI. Since the firefighters didn't have immediate access to it, they also never thought to grab the TI. As a result, the TIs sat unused. Sure, on rare occasions, someone would remember it during the tail end of overhaul and run out to the chief's car to retrieve it. But the imagers were not getting in when they could help the firefighters the most: during fire attack when visibility is poor.
After recognizing that a TI on a chief's car is hidden from the line firefighter, the department moved the TIs to the truck companies: one in each battalion. Since at least one of the trucks would go to each fire, this still gave citywide coverage. More importantly, it placed the TIs in the hands of the people most likely to use them. Or so they thought.
The department strived to rotate rookies through engine and truck assignments if possible, giving them critical experience outside of EMS duties. Fresh into his new career, a young firefighter was assigned to a truck company. His officer was a well-respected, fair and quality truck officer. He had mastered many of the lost arts: reading a building, reading construction, reading smoke, feeling what's going on inside a building. He could respectfully be called a "crusty old Jake." But, he didn't see the need to lug a five-pound imager in with him at each fire scene. So yet again, the imager remained poorly used.
The young firefighter noted that the TI sat on the truck each time they went in. So, one day he asked his officer if he could bring the TI into their next fire. The officer's reply was essentially, "Son, if you bring all your assigned tools along, I don't care if you bring a boom box to the next job."
After that, the firefighter considered the TI another one of his tools.
It was a slow process. The firefighter dutifully brought the TI into every emergency, using it as much as possible. But the officer was an artisan...he didn't need a silly imager to show him how to do truck work. Several months later, the firefighter's efforts finally paid off. Their truck company was inside, overhauling after a fire. They had worked hard, hard enough to think they were done. But it was difficult going, and the officer was concerned they may have missed something.
The officer turned to the firefighter and asked, "Hey, what does your imager tell you? Did we get it all?" Humbly, the firefighter scanned the area and said, "Yes sir, it looks like it's out." And with that, the firefighter had won a convert. The officer, in fact, became a lead advocate of TIs in the department.
The department has since added more TIs, enabling them to get more imagers on scene quicker. And each one is an assigned tool for a specific position on the company. So the TIs now come off the trucks at every fire.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.