Thermal Imaging: Effective Hands-On Thermal Imaging Drills

Firefighters are an inquisitive group and I often receive requests to provide training tips for using thermal imagers. The fact remains, even in 2013, that training materials for thermal imaging are hard to come by. Part of the reason is that while...


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Reflection from other objects

Reflection can further be exhibited by other bright and shiny objects. The side of the fire apparatus, a dry erase whiteboard and most smooth tile flooring will all lend themselves to a mirror-like appearance if encountered with a thermal imager. In a fire, this can be a help or a hindrance, depending on the situation, but make no mistake – you will encounter them in a fire and if you will encounter them in the real thing, then you better make sure you encounter it in training first.

• Thermal latency. Ask several firefighters to sit or lie down on the furniture and assume different positions. Let them stay there for several minutes and then tell them to get up. What you will see is the amount of body heat that the furniture absorbed and is now re-emitting. This latent thermal effect can be used to show that firefighters, during search and rescue, may see “signs” of victims before they actually locate any. There may be latent thermal images on furniture or beds that can be indications that victims are present. This can also be used on motor vehicle accidents to assist in determining the number of occupants, especially in rollover accidents where ejections are more common. You can get both false positives and false negatives, so information from thermal latency is only one piece of information. If you happen to have a driver of a vehicle who is intoxicated or head injured mumbling about a passenger and you see a thermal latent imprint in the passenger seat, I would make sure that you search the surrounding area.

• Insulation. If you have access to one, grab a chemical hot pack, activate it and throw it on a table. Show the group what the hot pack looks like to the thermal imager, and then cover it with a thick blanket. This shows that victims on beds are hard to detect as the warmer the blanket is for people, the better insulator it is. The better insulator the blanket is, the harder it is for a thermal imager to “see.” You can even use a bed sheet, blanket and comforter. For this reason, all beds should be searched by a gloved hand regardless of what the imager says.

• Fire inspections and pre-plans. One of the easiest trainings to conduct is to simply take the thermal imager with you during company-level fire inspections or pre-plans. Use the thermal imager to look around the building and if you see something that you do not recognize, investigate it until you understand what is causing it and why it appeared the way that it did on the thermal imager. Building this kind of mental database is one of the most effective methods of understanding what the imager is trying to display. n