Thermal Imaging: Real-World Incidents

Mike Lombardo describes through actual incidents how thermal imaging cameras are saving lives and finding the fire through technology.


The Buffalo, NY, Fire Department’s first use of a thermal imaging camera (TIC) was spawned by tragedy. On July 4, 1997, Firefighter Mike Sequin was killed in a fire on Kehr Street. After his death, a fundraising campaign was started to raise money to purchase a thermal imager. This effort was...


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In Lewiston, NY, north of Buffalo, Fire Company 1 responded to a one-car accident involving a sheriff’s department vehicle. The vehicle went off the road, struck a pole and ended up in tall grass. A quick-thinking firefighter deployed the TIC upon the fire department’s arrival. Scanning the scene, the firefighter could see that the officer had already exited the vehicle and was leaning on it, dazed from the impact. The firefighter scanning with the camera also noticed that live power lines were down and hanging at chest height. The officer was removed safely and suffered only minor injuries. The thermal imaging camera was useful in identifying this potentially deadly hazard.

These are just a sampling of incidents where a thermal imaging camera was useful in fire attack, search and saving lives. The TIC’s uses are limited only by your imagination; however, the camera will be of no use if it is not deployed on every call and deployed early with the first members entering the incident area. As with all equipment, training in the use of a thermal imaging camera and the interpretation of its image is crucial for a department to operate safely and effectively.


Mike Lombardo is the commissioner of the Buffalo, NY, Fire Department. Previously serving as captain of Rescue Company 1, he has spent 27 years in the fire service and is a speaker and instructor on fireground tactics throughout the United States. He received Firehouse® Magazine heroism awards in 1988 and 1993.