Thermal Imaging: "Where's the TI?" Here's the Answer

How often have you heard your fellow firefighters ask, “Where’s the TI?” This phrase is used far too often and too late in the firefighting process, like at the front door of a working fire before entry.

The thermal imager (TI) is one of the most valuable tools in the firefighter’s arsenal. So, why do firefighters forget to bring it with them? Often, it is because of where the TI is mounted or located on the apparatus. If the thermal imager is mounted in an inconvenient location (if it’s even mounted at all) on the rig, then it will likely be overlooked and left behind.

Different approaches

I have seen different approaches to finding a convenient location for the thermal imager so that it is used on every call. Some firefighters prefer to see the TI hanging from a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the officer’s seat, making certain that every time the SCBA is deployed, the TI is deployed along with it. Although this is a viable suggestion, it brings additional maintenance issues to bear, such as a regular checking of the TI’s battery level. Since the TI would not be receiving a constant charge from being docked in a truck charger, there is risk that the thermal imager’s battery has drained and the TI may not be operational for a call.

If a truck charger is being used, then make sure the charger is mounted in a location that is easily accessible to a firefighter who needs the tool. Mounting the truck charger in an obscure or difficult-to-reach location will all but guarantee that it is left behind at a call.

A common mounting location is on the doghouse of the apparatus within easy reach of the officer’s seat. Unfortunately, mounting the TI in this location requires the firefighter in the officer’s seat to turn around and possibly struggle to reach the TI. This also means the firefighter has to actively think about grabbing the TI since it’s not in the field of view. A better mounting location is in a forward position from where the firefighter in the officer’s seat is situated and where the TI can be reached and dismounted from the charger. So that it is not considered a hassle, the firefighter must be able to do this while seated and while fully outfitted in turnout gear, including SCBA.

Another common mounting location is in the rear of the cab. Again, the TI should be positioned so that a firefighter in the rear-seated position can easily grab the TI. Mounting in the rear of the cab poses some challenges, though. This area is crowded with additional seating, portable radios, flashlights and other equipment. However, mounting near these devices can be an advantage when deploying in a department where TI usage is spotty. Having TIs positioned near equipment that firefighters consistently use may, in turn, promote the consistent deployment and use of TIs. If the last thing a firefighter sees when exiting the cab is the TI, she or he will be more likely to grab it.

For rigs that require mounting of multiple TIs, finding spare space can be even more challenging. However, departments that deploy multiple TIs on an apparatus have likely instilled their regular use. TIs are a highly visible part of their operations.

The bottom line is to find a location that is easily accessible for firefighters so the TI comes off the rig every time. There is not necessarily a right or wrong approach, but thinking about how firefighters are positioned and how equipment is deployed will go a long way in determining how frequently a thermal imager is used. The key is to find the right place for your department to be sure the tool comes off on every call. A little forethought will prevent the annoying chatter of “Where’s the TI?” and perhaps even save a life.

In closing, I know many of you have benefited from the wisdom and practical experience of Brad Harvey, the long-time writer of this “all things thermal imaging” column. As the new subject matter owner, I don’t intend to fully replace that wisdom and experience, but rather offer something of a different approach. Several members of Bullard’s team, many of whom are experienced TI users and firefighters, will assist me by contributing topics and content to this column, infusing it with a rich range of experience and expertise.

So, as this column transitions to me, you will undoubtedly observe stylistic changes (as you would when any new writer takes over) and a somewhat different perspective considering the differences in backgrounds between Brad and me. Still, this column will preserve the practical elements you have come to expect and the dedication to helping make thermal imaging a part of every fire department’s essential tool kit. I look forward to sharing this perspective with you. n