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As more fire departments incorporate thermal imaging (TI) into their operations, they have discovered a greater need for formalized training. Because the number of available resources is limited, this column has examined the various steps needed to develop a quality in-house training program. However, early in the process of evaluating a training program, a department must face the question, "Can we do this in-house?" This month, we look at what to do if the answer is, "No."
October's article discussed the three primary categories of outside help: fire academies, private training companies and TI manufacturers. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, which were briefly addressed in that article. This month, we examine each category in greater depth. The biggest concern in using an outside resource is qualifying it. Qualifying a resource requires you to verify that it is capable and competent. After all, nothing hurts more than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a program only to find out the instructor is a buffoon.
Every state and region has established different training standards and methods for reaching the fire service. Even though a department may run its own academy, there is probably a state or regional training resource available as well. Illinois, for example, has the Fire Service Institute (FSI), which is located at the University of Illinois - Champaign/Urbana. FSI is basically an entity within the university that acts as a statewide training resource for the fire service. The Institute offers programs to career and volunteer organizations alike, even if the department runs its own academy for recruits. FSI has developed a 12-hour TI training program that provides about four hours of classroom education and eight hours of hands-on practicals. Maine offers a similar program, and there are undoubtedly other states and regions that provide the same.
The key advantage to the state or regional program is that it is a recognized standard in your state. You receive some liability protection when the recognized fire training authority in your area has vetted the program and decided that it covers the essentials. Additionally, you ensure that the training your people receive is nearly identical to the training neighboring departments receive. That makes mutual aid work significantly easier, even if you do not have the same TI model.
Private Training Companies
There are a number of private companies that train on thermal imaging technology. Some, such as the Infrared Training Center, emphasize industrial applications. They will generally offer certifications; however, the certifications are geared exclusively towards industrial standards. While these programs can help you understand the technology, they will probably give you little insight into the unique challenges you face as a firefighter.
Some organizations emphasize other aspects of public safety, such as the Law Enforcement Thermographers Association (LETA). LETA programs originated as U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration training and have expanded from there. LETA does offer firefighter-specific training, but the bulk of its work is in law enforcement. LETA programs also offer certification, often qualifying police officers for continuing education credit. While there is more overlap between law enforcement and firefighting than between industrial maintenance and firefighting, the law enforcement training may also overlook critical fire service issues.
That leaves private fire service training companies. One such company is Safe-IR. The company is run by firefighters who have years of experience using thermal imagers in the real world. They maintain relationships with every TI manufacturer in North America. In fact, many TI manufacturers use Safe-IR exclusively as their training resource. Of course, there are other companies that offer TI training, and do it well. The lack of fire service standards or certifications can make it more difficult to identify the higher-quality organizations.
Thermal imaging manufacturers are a resource for training, as well. Each manufacturer offers different content and media for training. A decent training program should last at least two hours. If the manufacturer's rep says he can get your training done in less time than that, then he probably isn't training you. Chances are he's just showing you how to operate your TI ("Here's where the battery goes...here's how you turn it on..."). See the November and December columns for what constitutes a basic training program. A well-planned program from the manufacturer, though, can be an excellent training resource.
Every manufacturer will include written instructions for use; these do not constitute training. These are just the written documents from which the sales rep may present the 20-minute "How to Operate Your TI" class. Some manufacturers have included videos, CDs and PowerPoint presentations. Some of the videos are good primers. They briefly touch on the key training points; the majority, though, fail to go into enough depth to qualify as "real training." Many videos are dated because the technology advances faster than the videos can be updated. CDs and PowerPoint presentations can be very good tools, but they can become dated as quickly as videos. PowerPoint usually requires an instructor to guide the class through the presentation. If the instructor does not understand the intricacies of the presentation, the program may not be effective.
In short, the quality of the training depends on the trainer as much as the training material.
The outside training resource is a valuable option for the department that cannot afford the time or resources to develop its own training program. Be sure to investigate all of your options and evaluate them for quality and effectiveness. Visit this column's partner article in the Technology section of Firehouse.com to read tips on evaluating a private company as a training resource.
As always, if you have questions, comments or ideas for future articles, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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 public safety official in Central Kentucky. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.