Thermal Imaging: NFPA 1801-Compliant Thermal Imagers

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4. To apply for and receive a FIRE Act grant, the imager must be 1801 compliant

Fact and myth. While the guidance documents published by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding the FIRE Act grant process indicate that products purchased with grant monies must be NFPA compliant (if there is an applicable NFPA standard), those same documents contain a provision for an applicant to be approved for the grant even if the imager is not 1801 compliant. The applicant must cite the reason for the request for the non-compliant product as part of the application process. Reasons could include additional cost, fleet conformity and compatibility with existing imagers and imager accessories within the department. (See the FEMA guidance document for obtaining FIRE Act grants for more information at www.fema.gov/firegrants/.)

5. NFPA-compliant thermal imagers will improve robustness for use in firefighting

Fact. Many thousands of thermal imagers are in use in fire departments around the world, helping firefighters see through smoke, find victims and navigate their way through and out of structures. In the vast majority of cases, these imagers function as designed in extreme environments. There are, of course, rare cases where a product suddenly stops functioning or does not function properly. An NFPA standard will not change this; however, certain components of 1801 will make thermal imagers function in a more standardized way, improve certain performance characteristics and add a level of robustness that was not previously found in all products. Even though there is scant evidence that any significant product-safety issue exists, the standard does enforce some sensible product changes related to robustness.

6. NFPA-compliant thermal imagers will be more complex to operate

Myth and fact. NFPA-compliant products will afford users consistent functions and on-display symbols and, while the overall operation may be more standardized from imager to imager, any simplification will exist only in the BASIC user mode. Overall operation of the imager will be more complex. The standard requires a separate operating mode for any product that adds additional functions beyond the minimum functions specified. All three products that have been certified thus far to 1801, as of the time of this writing, use this additional operating mode. Also, due to new requirements of the standard, changing batteries and attaching accessories can become more cumbersome. The standardized BASIC user interface may make training more readily available and, over time, the fire service may become accustomed to accessing this more advanced operating mode; however, to what extent remains to be seen.

Each fire department will have choices to make in future acquisitions of thermal imaging products. Once a standard exists, grant funds, collective bargaining agreements, local statutes and other influences must be considered. Complicating matters is the voluntary nature of NFPA standards. The fire service is typically quick to accept standards related to items such as personal protective equipment (PPE); however, compliance with other equipment or program standards is often spotty. Take NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, as an example. Many fire departments work to comply with the parts of this document that relate to PPE, but many of those same departments cannot or choose not to comply with the parts related to medical and physical requirements or behavioral health and wellness programs.

Some common issues may emerge:

• How will we use the imager and what features and options offered best meet the way we will use it?

• What is our budget and can we afford the additional expense of an 1801-compliant imager or should we consider cheaper alternatives that demonstrate the same or similar levels of robustness?

• Do the benefits of NPFA compliance and additional product complexity warrant the additional cost?