Finding Hidden Fires

By properly using their thermal imagers, firefighters can locate hidden fires faster, saving themselves tremendous amounts of time and energy.

Firefighters opened the wall and found that the brick wall inside was warm, but they didn't find the fire until they opened the wall in the adjacent room. Chief Tim Graves explained what they found.

"There were no outward signs of fire, but inside that wall the fire had been smoldering for four to five hours," Chief Graves said. "The two-by-fours had full depth charring at that point? The thermal imager saved that company millions of dollars in R&D documents, production work and damage to the structure."

Lt. Frese pointed out the critical nature of saving time at this incident. "If you respond to a major fire, there's not much you can do," he said. "If you show up early, there's a lot you can do. If we hadn't found the concealed fire with the thermal imager, I'm convinced that we would have been back at 2 a.m., responding to a major chemical fire."

Lessons Learned: Determination, a logical approach and a thermal imager made the difference. TCFD shows how thermal imagers save property, especially when firefighters are searching for hidden fire. Note, though, that Lt. Frese verified what the thermal imager was showing him. He saw a hot spot with the TI, then checked it with his hands before opening the wall. Don't forget basic investigative techniques so you do not cause unnecessary damage. Also, when scanning, be sure to stick with a three-level approach, scanning high, middle and low and covering shoulder to shoulder to ensure a full view of the area.


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