The Challenges in Specialty Fires

We'll examine in more detail the advantages of a TI in these environments, as well as two more challenges specific to these fires.

The February Firehouse magazine TI training article discussed some of the challenges users can face onboard aircraft or ship fires. Online, we'll examine in more detail the advantages of a TI in these environments, as well as two more challenges specific to these fires.


A handheld TI can assist firefighters while they are approaching an aircraft fire, as well as while they are operating inside the aircraft. During the approach phase, firefighters can use the TI to help identify safe passage through dense smoke, avoiding large volumes of fire or dangerous debris from a crash. They can identify the exact locations of doors and windows to help them decide appropriate entry points. If there are openings in the fuselage due to the crash, firefighters can also evaluate these as potential entry points.

Once inside the aircraft, firefighters can identify the location and direction of the active fire as well as any crash victims requiring rescue. In a smoke investigation, the TI can help firefighters identify areas of higher heat, leading them to track down the smoldering source of smoke.

One additional challenge of aircraft fires is that aircraft are loaded with hydrocarbon fuels. Once a fire starts aggressively burning, all of the foams, plastics and jet fuel (or aviation gas) will generate tremendous amounts of heat and black smoke. This can cause problems for the TI, especially if moisture and soot build up on the lens. Firefighters need to remember that a rapidly deteriorating TI picture can be cured by quickly wiping the lens with a gloved finger. They also need to be comfortable recognizing rapidly deteriorating conditions so that they do not overextend themselves, or misinterpret a dangerous situation as just a poor thermal image.


A TI can dramatically improve the effectiveness of firefighters onboard a vessel. Since obstacles and passageways are easily identified, a properly trained team will advance more quickly to the area of the fire when using a TI. This means that the firefighting team will find the fire, as well as any potential victims, faster. Despite dense smoke, hose streams can be visualized with the TI, allowing firefighters to extinguish the fire more rapidly. By extinguishing the fire faster, the threat to the ship and its personnel is reduced.

Firefighters will also be able to navigate dangerous spaces more safely. Cargo ties, steam lines, electrical conduits, engine room equipment and a host of other obstacles will be visible with the TI. This can help in low-light environments, not just smoke-filled ones.

Do not forget that ship spaces are small and compartments are watertight. These two features combine to cause a rapid build up of heat and dense smoke. Thick soot buildup on the TI lens can occur quickly. The naturally high humidity of a shipboard environment means that water condensation on the lens is also a likely risk. As with aircraft fires, firefighters must know how to rapidly correct a poor image caused by lens obstruction. They also must recognize potentially dangerous situations rapidly, as spaces can be small, and exit can be long and complicated.


Most of us will never have to fight a fire on an aircraft or a ship. While the potential for an aircraft incident is present for almost all firefighters, the likelihood of a shipboard incident is limited to coastal and port locations. Ensure that your training for these incidents includes specific training on your TI so that your firefighters are better prepared for the unique challenges of these types of fires.

Below are the complete Anchorage and Jacksonville "success stories" on how they used their TIs properly and effectively.

TI a Critical Tool at Ship Fire

Three Anchorage (Alaska) firefighters faced the challenge of their lives when they responded to a call in June of 2002 on the Great Land, a 790-foot roll-on/roll-off cargo ship loading in the Port of Anchorage. As they left the downtown fire station, firefighters saw a preview of the work ahead: thick black smoke pushed skyward from the port area.

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