In addressing the "Five Deadly Sins of Thermal Imaging", the September issue of Firehouse Magazine addresses the last three sins. One of these, Advancing at an Inappropriate Speed, poses the most risk to firefighters. In an effort to deal with this risk, the training article recommends that TI operator takes time to describe what he sees on the TI display. This online article will address this tip in greater depth.
Clarity vs. Detail
Many firefighters recoil at the thought of wasting dozens of seconds trying to describe a room to a partner. However, if the process is done properly, the time used is minimal, and it can result in a faster, more effective search. The primary issue is that the user of the TI forgets that the rest of the team is not seeing what he sees. Outside of equipping each member of the team with his own TI, the only way to correct this information gap is for the TI user to explain the image to the team.
The key in the description is to clarify what you see, not provide a detailed and exhaustive list. Consider these three descriptions:
- "We're in the family room. There's a TV over there and a couch by that wall. We're going to the door across over there."
- "We're in a 12 by 15 family room. There's a couch on the south wall, two chairs on the east wall and an entertainment center on the west wall. There are windows over the chairs; we're doing a right hand search."
- "We're in the family room. It's about 12 by 15. It looks like an entertainment center is to the right; there's a TV and a stereo on it. The speakers are on the sides. There's a couch on the wall across from us; there are a couple of pillows on it and a coffee table in front of it. To our left are two chairs; one might be a recliner. I see two windows over the chairs. I'm going to our right."
Each of these describes the room. The first explanation lacks detail; the firefighter giving it assumes that the listener can see what he is seeing. Remember, that's not the case. The third description is overload; it provides unnecessary details that do not impact firefighter efforts or safety. The second description is a fair balance of brevity and detail, which together provide clarity. Clarity gives the rest of the team a general layout of the room, and more importantly, the team gains knowledge of emergency exits and the planned route of advance.
A Second Spent is a Second Earned
Go back to the descriptions and read each out loud. The second description, which brings "clarity" to the team, can be read aloud in less than 15 seconds. That small time investment ensures that each member of the team knows where he is going and what he will encounter. When all of the firefighters in the company know the layout and know the plan, they will advance more quickly and more safely through the room. A proper TI scan and description on the front-end of a room search will yield time savings during the physical search and will speed movement through the room.
While the more detailed descriptions give room dimensions, firefighters should not be overwhelmed trying to estimate room size. It's just that: an estimate. The idea is to convey the type of room, its general size and its layout. Whether the room is 11 by 14 or 12 by 15 is not significant; it is important to convey if it is a small, medium or large room. Similarly, the general forms and locations of obstacles are key; the shape, texture, material, etc. does not impact the primary goals of finding the victim, finding the fire and finding a safe path into (or out of) the building.
Solid teamwork is always enhanced by solid communication. The presence of a thermal imager does not change this; in some instances, it requires even greater communication because only one member may have the advantage of sight. Firefighters must regularly practice using their TIs in realistic environments, as well as practice proper communications. Sharing the knowledge and "vision" of the TI helps all of the team members make better decisions, operate more effectively and perform more safely.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.