Thermal Imaging Training: Hazardous Materials

A number of fire departments have purchased thermal imagers (TIs) for their hazmat companies or through hazmat-related budgets (read “WMD and Homeland Security grants”). Whether the TI is assigned to the hazmat company or to a front-line company responding to a possible hazmat incident, it can be an excellent tool for managing these responses. This month’s training tips will concentrate on the applications and limitations of thermal imaging in hazmat. Again, the overall goal is for you to use your thermal imager more, to gain skill and comfort with the tool.


Photo courtesy of Bullard
Photo 1 shows how a phase change in certain materials can make a product line more obvious. In this image, the propane truck in the center shows a clear product level. The white signature on the tires and engine compartment indicate that the truck has been driven recently, implying the driver recently on-loaded or off-loaded propane. The truck to the right does not have an obvious product line, nor has it been driven recently. It has not on-loaded or off-loaded propane, and the absence of a phase change has created temperature equalization.

Throughout this series, we have regularly reinforced how a thermal imager functions. Understanding these basics is even more important for firefighters using the TI in hazmat scenes. This tool is not an x-ray device; it does not see through containers. It can, however, see temperature differences on the surface of a container. The essentials at a hazmat scene are: