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  1. #1
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Post Have you evaluated Thermal Imagers?


    A lot of departments are looking to buy thermal imagers now. I feel and think most people would agree you should conduct a thorough evaluation of the units you are considering before you buy. Unfortunately not all departments have the resources or time necessary to conduct a good evaluation.

    Unfortunately there is also not a lot of information out there on thermal imaging, so most of the information departments are getting is coming from the TI sales force. I have a considerable amount of first hand experience with this information and a large portion of it is shaky at best. You need only to read the post which asked, "at what depth can you see a body in water" (I have heard many a TI salesman talking about recovering bodies in water) to confirm that there is a lot of bad information being circulated.

    In order to help or brothers (and sisters) out please post any info you have accumulated through your research or evaluation process. If you have a good documented evaluation please post the info on where a copy of it can be obtained.

    I hope one day true factual information on thermal imaging (not opinion or half-truths) will be as common and easy to get as it is on other firefighting topics. Until then it is up to us to help each other out.

    Also if you have a question, don't be shy, there is no such thing as a dumb question. The only way we are going to get the most out of thermal imaging is to make sure everyone is truly aware of what it can and can not do.

    Good Luck, Be Safe !

  2. #2
    Kyle Wickman
    Firehouse.com Guest


    In Madison NJ, we got to demo alot of brands over a small amount of time. We liked the K-90 and we bought 2 of them for are 1st due engines. They had the best picture and good price. It is a great all around camera.

  3. #3
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Hi Kyle,

    I believe you are referring to the K-90 Talisman. I have heard and read quite a bit about the good performance of this camera when a trial was conducted together with a few other brands. However, there was little technical information available - even the product brochure and sales person I spoke to did not have much technical specifications on the K-90 Talisman.

    I am currently doing an evaluation on thermal imagers and hope you can help me concerning one detail - is the K-90 Talisman running on BST chip or microbolometer technology?

    * BST chips and microbolometers are different technologies through which present thermal imaging cameras generate their images.


  4. #4
    Eng 48
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I just had the chance to try out 8 T. I. cameras in a burn building. We tested the Bullard, Scott, Cairns Iris, Fire FLIR, MSA Argus2, ISI Vision 3, the Talisman, and the Fire Research Lifesight. I grabbed the FLIR first and used it as the helmet mount. Standing around outside I could see but as soon as we made entry, my mask fogged up and blocked the viewfinder. I felt this situation culd happen at any time and that this was not the right camera for us (also later on another firefighter came out of the building with it hanging off his helmet, the clip had come undone while working with it.) Next, my partner and I grabbed the Iris, and I had the same problem. We were'nt considering this camera as an option anyway, but I wanted to give them all a go. We then took the Scott in. I was behind my partner, over his shoulder watching the viewfinder and seeing a very clear picture. We then grabbed the ISI. It gave a good image and was easy to handle but you had to hold it right up to your face to see the screen. We came out and tried the Talisman and the Bullard at the same time. My partner and I had already used the Bullard once but wanted to take it again anyway. Again the image in the Bullard could be seen by myself and my partner, and was very clear, where as the Talisman had to be held right up to your face and didn't have the same definition. Our last trip in we took the Lifesight and the Argus. I was very impressed with the picture quality in the Lifesight and could clearly see the screen away from my face. It was not easy to view from the side but from directly behind my partner could see. The Argus had run out of battery in the room, but my partner said it was similar to the Talisman.
    There were about 30 people testing imagers, so our trials were short. The cameras that gave poor images we didn't spend much time with, as compared to the ones we could see well with. We have narrowed our search down to three finalists. Scott, Bullard, and the Fire Research Lifesight. If I needed a fourth, it would be the ISI. We ruled out helmet mounted cameras as they were a little combersome, and when your mask fogs, you loose the image. The smoke conditions were VERY heavy, they did a good job smoking the building up. These are only my opinions. Take into consideration that my mask had fogged up and these choices were the cameras that I could see through both the smoke and the fog. We are going to schedule another burn with our three finalists before we decide. I will update this post as soon as it's complete.
    Remember this, a camera may alow you to see through smoke, but stay with the basics. If you walk into the middle of a space and the camera goes out, you will get lost. Stick with a right or left hand search patern to be safe.
    Be safe everyone!

  5. #5
    Firehouse.com Guest


    We have evaluated all of those cameras as well, plus the FireOptic and I would have to say that the cameras with the microbolometer out performed the BST cameras by a long shot. Four out of the six BST based cameras saturated(white out)and had the black halo effect which does no good when you looking for a victim or your partner. Once the fogging issue is solved by the helmet system manufacturers I think that's the only way to go!

  6. #6
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Thanks for the input, here is some comments,

    I am worried that once again, the TI Sales force is doing its job of selling imagers, but putting out bad info, and burying or confusing the real issues.

    Issue One : BST units performance when looking directly at a fire

    First I love all of the talk about looking directly into a fire. Personally I tend to try and put it out or I go in the other direction if I do not have a handline. About the only time I sit and stare at a fire is at a training burn.
    Seriously, there was a problem with the earlier Vidicon Tube units "whiting out", but that problem was eliminated with the current BST units (I am not referring to all BST units). I say that because the current BST units may have a portion of the screen turn white when directly viewing a fire, but it is not the entire screen and the white out clears away when the unit is no longer viewing the fire, this is unlike the "white out" of a Vidicon Tube unit which covered the entire screen and had a long lasting if not permanent affect. I understand the argument that the microbolometer unit can better handle the task of viewing a fire directly, Lockheed Martin’s microbolometer demo tape shows this very well, but my question to them was where is your video tape showing what we do the other 98 percent of the time we are not looking directly at the fire? I will give the microbolometer credit for having a greater dynamic range which may be a benefit if you are trying to ID a person between you and the fire, but I have spotted many a person between me and the fire just fine with a BST unit. As far as the black halo around a hot object, I like it, It immediately draws my attention to the hottest object on the screen, and if I want to eliminate it, all it takes is a fine adjustment on the contrast control. I will once again admit there are BST units that do have a problem with this but that is not the case with all of them and the better units (with good gain controls) really do not have a significant problem with this. Please, think about it, how much time are you really going to spend looking directly at a free burning fire with a thermal imager ?

    Issue Two : Image Quality
    I am glad to see the progress in picture quality/contrast. I worked with the earlier Vidicon Tube units, and they had poor sensitivity and dynamic range which meant very poor image quality/contrast. However, I am disappointed to see so much emphasis being placed on picture quality, after all we are fighting fires not making Hollywood movies. I admit that there must be a good level of sensitivity, dynamic range, and resulting image contrast which a microbolometer unit obviously excels at, but I would also argue that the picture quality of the good BST based units is more than good enough for what is required in Fire Service operations. Do not settle for poor picture quality, but also do not forget if the unit can not withstand the firefighting environment and shuts down, you will have no picture, good or bad, so think about putting durability on that evaluation list equal to or above picture quality. That’s right, you can talk about picture quality all you want but until you are ready to bake it, dunk it, and drop it, don’t look for my vote.

    Issue Three : Microbolometers in general
    The near future of thermal imaging will be based on microbolometer technology, which is great because microbolometer technology is defiantly a step up from BST technology with its better dynamic range, through the lens temp. measurement, and better image quality. But, do not forget :
    BST is not dead, It has a track record of service in which it has performed well and saved many lives. Your computer is probably not the latest model on the market but it still does the job you purchased it for.
    Microbolometers are relatively new in the Fire Service and have a limited track record of performance. Do you want to buy the first model of product to hit the market ? or wait until someone else works out the bugs and you get the second model.
    Make sure a microbolometers performance is measured under firefighting conditions, heat, water, and a lot of abuse. Remember to compare apples to apples. There is big difference between a microbolometer being mounted on a tank or helicopter versus being in your hand or on your head in a burning building.
    Microbolometers are not perfect, contrary to what you may have been told. They require a very precise operating temp., is that a good thing in an environment where temperatures are anything but normal or friendly? Why are they coming out with removable heat sinks if heat is not a problem?
    Next time someone shows you how well a fire looks, take a look at a wall where there is no high heat source, does everything blend together? When you look at someone and can read the nametag on their uniform, can you make out what is in the background, or does it blend together. That is called "thermal drift" and it can be a big problem with microbolometers.
    A microbolometer has no continuously moving parts, keyword being continuously, it does have a "shutter" that must periodically close in front of the detector to "zero it". By the way I have never experienced a problem with a BST unit because of a chopper wheel failure, unless I dropped it about 5 feet onto concrete, but I don't think anyone is going to say a microbolometer can take that any better.

    Bottom Line,
    If you have not started to do your homework on microbolometers, better start now. Voice your opinion that you would like more info on this topic to anyone who will listen. Do not let one manufacturer serve as your sole source of information, and believe the things you can see for yourself or verify through multiple sources. Microbolometers will be it in Y2K, but don't rush in with open arms and a purchase order.
    Don't take the BST unit to the local swap meet, If you got a good one, it worked when you bought it and it should work for years to come.
    If you are thinking about buying, buy it now, DO NOT WAIT. I know of multiple departments who have had civilian and firefighter life saves all within the first week of ownership. What would have happened if they had waited. Buy hand-held BST units now and hands-free microbolometer units next year.
    Whatever the case may be, BST or microbolometer, Hands-Free or Hand-Held, YOU decide whatever works best for department and conduct a good evaluation to find the best imager for the job.

    As always, I have lots. That is lots of information on thermal imaging free for the asking. It is objective materials and hard facts, not just a bunch of propaganda.

    Thank You, once again for your interest and input. Remember “Knowledge is Power” and “Ignorance is Bliss”, until reality slaps you in the face at 3:00am when the 5th automatic alarm turns out to the real thing and your trusty thermal imager craps out on you as you find yourself in the middle of a 30000 square foot commercial building blinded by smoke and surrounded by fire as the sales man’s words run through your head “ its the latest technology and just look at that picture quality.”

    Good Luck, Be Safe,

  7. #7
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I agree somewhat with TIMAN. Purchase whichever system you like and works for your dept. and make sure to do your homework on all the systems and companies producing them. You don't want to buy from a company that will be out of business soon. Another big item is capability of being upgraded. You will want to buy a camera that is upgradable and will grow with technology. The technology will change a lot in the next few years and you don't want to buy a 486PC now when the P3 with empty card slots will be out next year for the same price. Remember, alwasy test drive the systems before purchase and think about the future!!

  8. #8
    Eng 48
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I didn't want to get to specific, but we didn't experince "white out" with any of the cameras that we spent any amount of time with. The Scott and Bullard have throttles to dampen the image if necesary, and the Lifesights is automatic, depending on the mode your in. Like I said, this was a brief overview. I could write a few pages on everything I found. The only thing I can say is TRY them. Cairns was telling us about their new camra (microbolometer tech., backlit screen, handheld) but it wasn't there. I think both technologies have come a long way, but both offer excelent pictures. We are setting up another demo as I type so I'll be more specific then.

    Be safe everyone!

  9. #9
    Firehouse.com Guest


    Some of the handheld cameras do have a manual aperature that you can adjust for image quality, but when you go into the structure the last thing you want to do is make adjustments to see.

  10. #10
    Firehouse.com Guest


    In my experiences (evaluations, training fires, and the real deal) the hand held units do not require you to adjust them to see. The adjustment can be set in a number of positions and forgotten about. Adjusting them is matter of preference, not necessity.

    However, the hands-free units are mounted to your helmet, and unless you can keep your helmet in same place on your head all of the time (not possible in my experiences) then you will need to readjust your helmet or the unit to keep the screen in a position where you can see it. Now that would be a necessity to see.

    What do the rest of you think ?


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