The "Five Deadly Sins" Of Thermal Imaging

This column is the final installment of a two-part series on the “Five Deadly Sins” of thermal imaging. Last month, we concentrated on the two most common and potentially most dangerous sins: standing and walking in unsafe environments and...


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• Training For Safety

Proper image interpretation is developed over time through regular usage of a thermal imager. Only with frequent use will firefighters become comfortable with understanding how it develops images and, more importantly, what those images portray. Firefighters should be using an imager on a weekly, if not daily, basis and developing their image-interpretation skills at training burns, as well as by looking around the firehouse. Even building inspections can turn into opportunities to practice using a thermal imager and understanding its imagery. If you don’t understand what you see, investigate until it becomes clear. This will help you make sense of unusual images when in the heat of the battle.

 

Deadly Sin 5 – Misapplying the technology. Generally speaking, this will generate more frustration than danger. Firefighters must know the limits of thermal imaging technology as well as the scope of its capabilities. For example, firefighters cannot expect a thermal imager to assist them in recovering a drowning victim, as imagers will not see through water. You cannot use the thermal imager to accurately and reliably tell you the temperature of any surface particularly shiny or reflective surfaces like glass.

While misapplication of the technology may not necessarily place a firefighter at greater risk, a lack of understanding of limitations and capabilities can either falsely lower or falsely raise a firefighter’s confidence in the thermal imager as a valuable tool.

• Training For Safety

Ensuring proper application of the tool is a matter of solid training and frequent reminders. Firefighters should receive a formal training program on how to use thermal imagers, how they function and what limitations they have. Some fire departments have developed their own imager training programs, as have some state-run fire training facilities. Fire departments can also turn to private training companies, or even the manufacturer of their thermal imagers, for formalized training.

 

A common theme to avoiding all five “Deadly Sins” is one word – training. This two-part series identified five common challenges to safe thermal imager usage. Firefighters must first recognize the challenges, then incorporate training programs that meet these challenges head-on. Thermal imager use must be incorporated into all aspects of fire training and should not be considered as a stand-alone topic. If firefighters practice the pulling and advancing of the hose while carrying a thermal imager, they will become better at using it to make their advancement easier. This philosophy must extend to all facets of emergency operations. With proper and safe training, firefighters will be better equipped to use their tools in an appropriate manner.