Thermal Imaging Training: Fire Attack

Firehouse magazine's October thermal imaging training article addressed using the TI during size up. While this is not a new topic in thermal imaging training, it is an important one. A bad size up of any incident can quickly lead to disaster. It is important that fire officers use all the tools they have available to make the best possible decisions in a timely manner. To demonstrate how a TI can change an incident, consider these personal, "real life" stories.

I was the lieutenant on the second-in engine company at a report of "smoke in the house." The first-in engine had just arrived as we pulled up, so a complete size up had not been performed yet. In fact, a "walk-around" was not standard practice then, so the company was deploying and evaluating at the same time. We knew we had smoke in the building, and the resident believed it was an electrical problem.

My engine had a TI on board, and as we dismounted to hook the hydrant and support the first company, I used the TI to scan the building. The electrical service entered on the side nearest me, and the TI showed me exactly what we had. There was a hot, rectangular heat signature, which was obviously the fuse panel. A large heat source moved up from there and into the attic, showing that heavy heat had already moved into the attic space. While the initial suppression tactics were not changed, this information did change our overhaul efforts.

Since we knew the fire had probably transmitted into the attic, we spent extra time overhauling the attic. As a result, we found three additional areas of smoldering insulation, apparently caused by electrical shorts. Had we not located these prior to "breaking down and picking up," we would have returned six hours later to find fire blowing from the attic vents.

At another incident, I was the lieutenant on the first-in engine at a manufacturing facility. The facility had reported an insulation fire in its power house, where they generated their own electricity for the entire plant. Due to the size of the facility and the small size of the reported fire, our "size up" did not truly begin until we were in the power house. Once inside, I used the thermal imager to examine the insulated steam pipes.

The plant safety team thought they had extinguished the fire already, but before I committed the company and cancelled the other companies, I wanted to get a better feel of the situation. The staff assured us that the all the steam pipes were shut down and that we could pull the insulation safely without worrying about rupturing the pipes. My TI told me otherwise.

While a number of pipes had obviously cooled, the ones nearest where we would have to work still appeared very hot on the TI. I asked them to verify that the pipes were disconnected, and they assured me that they were. Trusting my instinct and my tools more than their staff, I insisted the lines were still active. Finally, their head of safety said he would personally verify the lines were shut down. Seven minutes later, when he returned, he said, "Now they are shut down. Sorry!" Working around the charged steam lines could have been catastrophic.

If you have a good "war story" of how a TI help you in your size up of an incident, send it to me through I'll try to compile some of the most creative, or most beneficial, uses and use them in a future article.

Use your TI often, wisely and safely.

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