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Getting brush trucks to the larger fire areas and personnel to the smaller fire areas is essential. In situations like this, it is difficult for an incident commander to maintain an accurate operational picture. In a department where you have only two types of resources (brush trucks and people) that are both in limited supply, appropriate deployment is critical to a successful operation. Personnel accountability is also enhanced when the incident commander can see what is going on.
An incident commander can also use a thermal imager simply to improve visibility at night and during inclement weather. Since the thermal imager does not use light to generate an image, it makes an ideal night vision tool. Picture quality is consistent and lets an incident commander generate a view of an entire scene that may not be possible otherwise, particularly when the scene is large or spread out. Visibility in rain or fog can also be enhanced through the use of a thermal imager. I think we all know how far a flashlight will get you in a heavy rain or dense fog.
Although these conditions will limit distance for a thermal imager, you can see farther in these conditions with a thermal imager than with any other technology you may have access to. How far an imager can see in these types of conditions is affected by quite a few factors, including density of precipitation and ambient temperatures, but if you work in an area prone to fog, a thermal imager can be a valuable tool for any incident.
Water offers a unique advantage to using a thermal imager in that it provides a consistent, isothermal background against which the imager can evaluate. Water, because it is a reflective surface for thermal imager, often looks artificially cold, which makes warm things really stand out. Locating, accessing and rescuing victims at night or during inclement weather, in static or moving water, is a good use for a thermal imager.
Victims are easier to locate and scene operations are easier to monitor when the incident commander is not relying on a shore-based spotlight. Positioned downstream from a swiftwater rescue, the incident commander can monitor operations as well as provide an important safety mechanism should a victim or rescuer be released into the moving water.
Although commonly overlooked, thermal imager deployment for incident commanders can add valuable information to the decision-making process, as well as provide a cohesive operating picture of the scenes they have been charged with orchestrating. When deploying a thermal imager for the incident commander, you may want to consider several accessory options, including digital zoom, given the greater distance at which the incident commander operates, tripod-mountable and some way to control screen glare.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” Information is what keeps an incident commander comfortable in his or her command and reduces stress levels. It also is what keeps incident commanders at an appropriate distance and out of the way of scene operations, allowing them to exercise the necessary self-restraint. n