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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.