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While a thermal imager will not see leaking gases, it will identify a container that is cooler because it is leaking. If it is easy for you to refill self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinders, place two or three next to each other. Carefully release about a quarter of the air from one and then ask a firefighter to determine which cylinder was leaking.
While temperature measurement can be accurate when viewing common construction materials, it can be extremely inaccurate when viewing reflective materials, such as metals.
To demonstrate why firefighters cannot make critical decisions based on an indicated temperature, fill a shiny aluminum or steel pot with water, place it on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then walk firefighters carefully through the following questions:
- What is the temperature of boiling water? (Answer, 212°F or 100°C)
- If the pot contains boiling water, what is the minimum temperature of the pot? (Answer, 212°F or 100°C, although it is likely much higher)
- Look at the pot with the thermal imager and take a temperature reading from near the bottom of the pot. It will probably read about 100°F or 39°C.
- Can you put your hand in boiling water? (Answer, no – not if you like your hand)
- Can you put your hand in 100°F (39°C) water? (Answer, yes, it is similar to a hot tub)
This is the easiest way to demonstrate clearly how temperature-measurement devices can lead firefighters to make poor decisions. Everyone who uses a thermal imager with temperature measurement must understand that the reading cannot be used to make life-or-death decisions.
You cannot expect to take your thermal imager out once a month and be comfortable with image interpretation. Image interpretation requires regular practice.
By regularly practicing with the thermal imager in and around the firehouse, you can improve your image-interpretation skills and keep them honed for emergency incidents. Practice also reinforces to your firefighters that the thermal imager is a valuable tool with many uses. These simple drills and your own creative adaptations of these simple drills can give your firefighters additional practice understanding thermal images.