Developing a TI Training Program

The thermal imaging training article in the October 2006 issue of Firehouse Magazine discusses training program development. Online, we'll examine the commitment needed for internal program development. This serves two purposes: first, it helps you realize truly how involved the process can be; second, it gives you suggestions on products and systems that have worked well for me.

Time

Time is the biggest factor in program development. When I started as the training manager at Bullard, I inherited a tremendous amount of program material. This saved a significant number of man-hours as I expanded and modified the training materials. For example, when a new or modified product must be added to the presentation, the PowerPoint must be updated to include the current information. Merely adding a new product and removing its predecessor can take up to a full work day. Developing a 30-minute presentation from scratch can also take a full work day. As you can see, developing a three- to four-hour training presentation can take weeks.

Gathering media is also time-consuming. Capturing and downloading still images is relatively easy. (Click here for sample thermal images from Bullard.) However, do not be careless with this task. If you do not adequately catalog and name your images, locating them later will be difficult. As your library expands, finding an image filed in the wrong folder can become nearly impossible. Collecting video clips is complicated and labor intensive, especially at live burns. Each shot must be planned and orchestrated in advance. You have to know what you want the video clip to portray, then ensure that you film it completely and effectively. One hour of video recordings may yield as little as three minutes of usable video clips. If you consider that working through a live burn, coordinating heat build up and replacing air cylinders adds even more time, collecting the one hour of video could take five or more hours on scene.

For example, at a recent live burn in Indiana, Bullard trainers arrived at the burn site at 0800 hours. Final preparations, safety briefings and laying out hoselines took us to 1000 hours. Four burn evolutions and a lunch break took us to 1400 hrs. Then the host department burned the house down. Our video collection work took a little over six hours, and we gathered about four minutes of quality video. (Click here for sample thermal imaging video clips from Bullard.)

In short, do not underestimate the time commitment!

Technology

Obviously, to develop quality digital media, you will need a higher-end computer. It does not have to be a $3,000 "super-server," but a 10-year-old, 486 chip will not suffice. PowerPoint is my presentation program of choice, mostly because it is bundled with Microsoft Office software. You will also need a video and photo editing program. I used Adobe Premiere, which has more capabilities than I could possibly use in 40 years. Certain versions of Windows XP include video editing software; I am not familiar with the program, but know people who are quite happy with it. In general, the presentation will require basic clips that do not require fades, swipes and graphical effects. If you have a basic program that you know and understand, use it unless it proves ineffective.

For hardware, you will need a digital camera and a digital video camera. Remember that high-resolution digital pictures are very memory-intensive. When a photo is projected during a presentation, most users will not notice the difference between a 4.1 megapixel image and a 7.1 megapixel image. Sometimes, smaller is better in digital imagery, so don't go crazy buying top end technology. Buy quality and value.

For the digital video camera, I prefer one that can record normally as well as from an input cable. This allows you to place "normal video" on the same tape as "thermal video" without changing recording devices; you merely plug in the thermal imager to record from it instead of through the video camera lens. I've had success with several Sony models; ask for something that will record both ways. Ensure that the video camera creates digital recordings, not analog, as this obviates the need for additional hardware and conversion steps. The method for capturing the TI video output varies, depending on your model. Some TIs have video out ports, from which you will run a cable and adapt it to the recorder. Others will require a wireless transmitter, with the receiver connected to the recorder. The wireless method is the least favorable, as static and interference will degrade the captured video image.

People

This whole process may seem daunting, but as more people adapt to the digital age, you will be amazed at how many of your fire department members have the requisite computer skills. In fact, since you've read this far in the article, you may well be a prime candidate to develop the program (or at least assist on the team). Whoever does the development needs to tackle the project as if he knows nothing. He needs to spend the time educating himself on the technology and how it works, and he must acknowledge that he does not know everything about thermal imaging. You cannot afford to have a program that has fundamental faults at its inception.

Conclusion

You can view an assortment of sample videos and images at Bullard's website, www.thermalimager.com. As always, if you have questions, comments or ideas, please e-mail me at jonathan_bastian@bullard.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 police officer in Lexington, Kentucky. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to jonathan_bastian@bullard.com.

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