Firehouse® Magazine interviewed representatives from Safe-IR Inc. who are veteran firefighters from around the country providing thermal imaging training for the fire service. They have presented classroom and hands-on training at more than 800 fire departments in 47 states and in Canada for...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
This question-and-answer session offers basic information that firefighters need to operate safely and effectively.
What is the benefit of using a thermal imager (TI)?
The technology is being marketed at the heartstrings - "If we had the TI, we would have made the rescue, we could have saved the child or the firefighter." If the TI does that once, it's worth its weight in gold.
For the day-to-day operations for the firefighter who is doing their job around the country, the biggest tactical advantage is to locate the seat of the fire quicker, monitoring the changes in thermal conditions as we are operating and accountability of firefighters.
Accountability is a major concern in the fire service today. Most departments have accountability systems in place. It's a tag we place on the rig, a riding list that the officer carries. Those seem to be popular types of accountability. In retrospect, it is a passive type. It doesn't tell us anything. If something happens to the individual or it is catastrophic where the building collapses or you have deteriorating fire conditions rapidly and you need a head count, then we go back to the rig and get those accountability lists or tags.
A TI operating inside that fire building provides a more proactive accountability. You are monitoring the firefighters where they are operating. If a member goes down, there is someone inside with visual accountability. As companies are changing from an aggressive interior operation to a defensive attack, we back out of the building. If the last person out is the one with a thermal imager, it might prevent that one firefighter from making a wrong turn and heading the wrong way. These are the types of things that a TI can provide when operating inside the building.
What about fire departments that don't have a lot of fire duty?
Five years ago, I met a volunteer fire chief in a rural area of northern Wisconsin. I asked the chief why he needed a TI. The chief said,"We get dairy barn fires. When we get smoldering hay inside the structure, the structure is not involved. The only way to save the structure is to get firefighters inside and physically move the hay." The chief said, "It has always been my fear that someone would go down in the smoky hay and we wouldn't have a clue about it. My idea with the thermal imager is to park a firefighter in the corner and watch to make sure the firefighters are safe while they are working. That's why I bought the TI."
Five years ago, a chief in northern Wisconsin worried about accountability. It's the same problem that's facing the fire service as we head into the millennium. I thought the chief was ahead of his time.
When do you turn the TI on?
As soon as you know you are going to use it. All the units have a warm-up time from 30 to 90 seconds. It gives you an opportunity to do a functional check of the unit to make sure it is operating properly. You can check on the battery power. Most units come with two batteries or a combination of a rechargeable and a shell where you can place regular batteries. Always place a spare battery pack in your pocket. The batteries are the weakest link. There are no user-serviceable parts in the TI. If the unit fails, the only recourse you have is to change the battery. If that doesn't work, you now have an extra five to seven pounds that you are carrying around.
How do you operate inside the fire building?
There are two different ways you can operate with a TI. You can lead the search or you can direct. If you lead the search, that puts the camera and the operator in front of the team he is working with. If you are leading with the TI, there is a tendency with some people to get caught up in the technology and take off and leave the team. You can lose the team concept.