12-30-1999, 02:32 PM #1FireOpticFirehouse.com Guest
What's Important in a Thermal Imaging Camera?
My name is Tom Clynne and I am the president of Infrared Components Corporation (you may know us as ICC).
Our company builds a TIC using the latest greatest technology, designed to be the most this and the best that and blah blah blah. I could go on and on about our products but without making this a commercial for the FireOptic, but I would like to relate a story that will make my point.
At a recent show, ICC together with virtually all of the vendors of TICs made a day long presentation in an open forum to anyone who chose to attend. During that day, only one, that’s right only one fire department saw everyone’s presentations. The next day, the representatives from that fire department came to our booth to discuss the purchase of a FireOptic camera. They opened their discussion with “I hate to burst your guys bubble (the collective TIC industry) but you all make a picture. You all see in the dark, and you all see through smoke.“ Hmmm....
They then lead us to believe we had the best unit by saying the FireOptic “was the only one that they saw that completely met their department’s needs, etc, etc, etc...”. Now we felt better!
Let’s make a long story short. They didn’t buy our TIC. In fact, they bought a camera from someone they openly admitted did not have the best unit. What that company did have however, was the best price. Not by a large amount, but they were still the lowest price bidder. All of their talk about features, benefits, usefulness, and every other descriptive adjective was overshadowed by the fact that price was the real key objective to them.
Which gets me to my point. While we in the community that manufacture TICs think we have listened carefully to the voice of the customer and provided what we each believe to be the best product on the market, I would like those individuals who have used, purchased or are contemplating the purchase of a TIC to post replies to this message as to what criteria they feel is the most important to them. This will help in two ways. First, it may help those departments considering purchasing a TIC to sort out all of the marketing mumbo-jumbo being cast about by the makers of TICs (see the “evaluations of imagers” forum for a good example of the sword play that is going on) and; second, it will help the industry to respond to the users requirements by emphasizing those key features into the next generation of TICs.
I’m not looking for stuff that doesn’t exist yet (like micro cameras embedded into the emblem on the helmet-telepathically linked to the cerebral cortex, etc), but tell us about what you have found to be the key things that helped you in determining what TIC you purchased and what you have found to be the best, and the worst features after you had the unit for a while. Along with that, I would like those departments currently evaluating TICs to discuss what units they looked at and what has helped them to boil down their selection process.
Let's work together to help sort out some of the confusion.
I anxiously await your replies....
President - ICC
12-30-1999, 10:19 PM #2JAPFPEFirehouse.com Guest
I'm glad now that I mentioned this site to one of your rep's when I called to inquire about your product yesterday. The more manufacturer rep.s' present here - the more checks and balances on information that is presented.
Here's my list of what I would like to see in a TIC (hand held):
1. Small and light enough to be held for extended periods in ONE hand.
2 Ready to go as soon as you step-off the apparatus, i.e. no extended warm-up time, no buttons/switches to manipulate other than an On-Off switch. Also auto-focus.
3. Minimum two-hours true run-time.
4. Rugged design. Must be able to withstand temperature extremes (not only HOT, but also COLD if you're standing around outside in upstate NY on the winter as the RIT/FAST Team), vibration (rides in the back of that "old rescue" most of time), submersible, impact resistant.
5. Decent warranty and a free of charge replacement delivered in a reasonable period of time, say 48 hours, if yours craps -out (sort of like buying a Lexus, right !!)
6. LARGE, bright screen which can be held at arm's length and viewed.
7. Adequate thermal protection for imager such that the possibility of a high temperature shutdown is a moot point.
Hamilton Fire Department
12-30-1999, 11:46 PM #3FireOpticFirehouse.com Guest
Thanks for the post.
Is there anyone out there who used any of the criteria Joe mentioned when selecting a camera?
Is so, what testing/evaluations did you exert on the units to decide if the unit met your expectations and/or needs?
How would you rank, in order of importance, the criteria you evaluated your camera with?
What additional criteria did you/would you use for evaluating a camera?
In most burns I have attended, the firefighters walk around upright looking at flames, etc to decide who has the best picture, but I think we all realize this is only part of the equation to be considered when purchasing a camera. I would like to see posts from other departments describing what they did during their testing & evaluations and how well those tests represented what they eventually learned when the camera was pressed into service.
Let's hear what you've got to say !!
President - ICC
12-31-1999, 11:04 AM #4FFE3BFDFirehouse.com Guest
When we evaluated TIC's, we did some rugged testing in live fire conditions. This was one of our main criteria in the "EVAL" to see if they could take the heat. Some could, but most couldn't, shuting off at temps around 250 degs/F and others with complete white out at temps slightly higher then that. Then was the picture quality issue, some were very impressive, you could actually read peoples badge numbers on their helmet shields in complete darkness and heat conditions. One of them you could see the water level in an above ground water tank 200 yards away. In the live fire testing we also found we pefered the hand held units compared to the helmet mounted systems for a number of reasons. After we narrowed down the field to the final two, we looked at the best buy for our money considering service, waranties, options and total cost.
We bought 4 of our final decision and haven't had a problem in two years.
~Smooth Bore For The Hard Core~
01-03-2000, 11:22 AM #5FireOpticFirehouse.com Guest
Sounds like performance in high heat conditions was an important requirement for you. The reason you could see shield numbers in high heat conditions was due to the fact that you were seeing reflected thermal energy from the test fire as opposed to the self emitted thermal energy from the shield number. In these conditions IR imagery takes on a "Black and White" television quality and has a more 3 dimensional effect since shadows can be seen and the side of an object or person facing the heat is "brighter" than the side facing away. This is how some TIC manufacturers get good imagery for use in their advertisements and marketing videos.
I'm surprised that most of the cameras you tested were not able to provide the same type of imagery under identical conditions, which leads me to another point. You should expect all cameras to provide nearly the same imagery across a wide set of test conditions. If you do not, then there is either something wrong with the camera you are testing, or you were not instructed in its proper use. If this happens to anyone during testing, do not be afraid to tell the salesman that his camera did not perform adequately. Tell him why, and give him an opportunity to correct the situation, otherwise, you may be prematurely and incorrectly eliminating a camera from your selection process. Too often, all a salesperson hears is good news about his/her product. Good news will not make products better. Bad news and failure reports go a long way toward improving overall product quality and the major source for this information is the customer!!
Interesting how some of the units tested shut off at high temperatures. We have found that many times, a test situation is much more torturous than the functional requirements in the real world.
Has anyone had their camera shut off or fail from high heat during actual use? If so, what preparatory measures did you take during training to anticipate this event?
Thermal imaging cameras do not make the fire fighter a superman and here's something else:
TICs are nothing more than a tool.
and like all tools....
TICs can and do fail during use!!
Know what to do if this happens to you!!
Adequate training is a requirement for correct TIC usage.
Thanks for the post!!
President - ICC
01-05-2000, 09:45 PM #6S. CookFirehouse.com Guest
Greetings Tom -
I checked out your camera at the I-Chiefs show and was pretty impressed with it. Nickle shell, light, durable, easy to aquire battery, buttons placed/guarded so I can't accidentally shut it off, in the apparatus charging station... Everything you'd want in a camera except for a HUD display for the SCBA mask. (And somehow work that slick gadget that detects a human heartbeat the guy had down the aisle from you into an imager.)
Now, without trying to contradict myself - we just bought our 3rd Bullard. We considered looking at all available imagers and yours was at the top of the list. We stayed with the Bullard for several reasons that include but are not limited to:
- The excellent service our other 2 Bullrad cameras have given us. They have never whited out, overheated or been put out of service for any other reason in a fire.
- The excellent service Bullard has given us. 24 hour turnaround and loaner unit if there's going to be a delay.
- It comes out of the box ready to go. All we have to do is push the ON button.
- There is nothing on the shell that I am going to break off, an antenna, a screw in handle, nothing.
- Common, interchangeable equipment on all apparatus.
- It doesn't appear to me, an end user, that there is a big technology leap between the 3rd generation (BST) and 4th generation (microbolometer) technology. At least not enough to justify the reason for, or the cost of, a change. If we felt there was, rest assured we'd make the change. And try as some might to put it in the front of debate, none of the end users of the 3rd generation imagers are complaining about the chopper wheel adjustment.
You quote someone as stating "You all see in the dark, and you all see through smoke." While this is true, some imagers do make a better picture than others, some camera shells are designed better than others and some components are better than others. It's just like bunker gear. All the manufacturers are using the same materials, they're just putting them together differently.
The bad news is that it is a money thing. A department I know of just recently bought 6 units for 11K each. I'm not sure if they settled for the lowest price regardless of quality or if they got what they wanted. Either way that's the cheapest price I've heard and considering you all make pictures, it would be hard to convince the city council that isn't familiar with what they're buying to spend another $18,000 to $24,000 for the same but different product.
From what I've seen, I believe you have an excellent product and as the TIC technology makes larger leaps beyond where it is now, we'll be calling you for an evaluation.
01-06-2000, 04:31 PM #7cwernerFirehouse.com Guest
Some general rules:
1. Dont come here to promote your product!
2. Do NOT get personal.
3. Vendors need to keep the discussion generic about products and features.
4. Fire department representatives are encouraged to share their experiences and product manufacturer information is OK.
While it is OK to post information about the advantages or disadvantages about certain features, pls defer from product sales here. If you want to provide sales info, then advertise. That's not what we are here for.
[This message has been edited by cwerner (edited January 06, 2000).]
[This message has been edited by cwerner (edited January 06, 2000).]
01-09-2000, 11:22 PM #8FireOpticFirehouse.com Guest
Thanks for the post.
Your choice of for a third Bullard camera was, I have to admit, a very good one. Once you are comfortable with a certain TIC, I can understand why you'd buy the same when making a next purchase.
As for the leap between technologies in a TIC (BST/chopper wheel-Bullard type technology vs. microbolometers), I believe there are several profound reasons why microbolometer based cameras can and do perform better, but this is not what I had hoped this forum topic would address. If you'd like to email me directly, I will be happy to share my thoughts with you. For a department such as yours, you have established a good relationship with a reliable and customer focused vendor, so to shift from what you know, to something new does not make sense, particularly when you have had nothing but success.
I would find it interesting to understand what screening process you employed during the original selection process which led you to make the choice you did. What actual in-field uses have you encountered that you would recommend potential purchasers try to duplicate when making their own choices? How would you test for them during an evaluation process?
If there is anyone else out there who has had good (or disappointing) success with a camera, please share your experiences and how you would recommend to test for whatever you have experienced.
My hope is that this topic thread can assist those departments interested in purchasing a TIC to develop an adequate expectation for what they need their camera to do under use, as well as help the TIC marketing/manufacturing community to truly understand the current and future needs of the firefighter.
Let's keep the information flowing!!
Thanks again Scott...
...(and thanks for the compliments!!)
01-10-2000, 01:18 AM #9S. CookFirehouse.com Guest
OK, here it is short and sweet...
The original selection process went something like this:
Winter/spring '98 - A vendor loaned us a 2nd generation camera for a class we were having. The fire chief showed it to the mayor. The mayor said to budget one in the next budget (Oct. 98).
~Sept. '98 - I attended a thermal imaging class and live burn eval that was supposed to be with several imagers. Some vendors didn't show and another left when they found out we were going to take the TICs into a live burn. Based on that eval we made our choice. Price was no object.
Nov. '98 it arrived.
Actual in-field uses for eval that I would duplicate now are basically the same as what I would do for training with emphasis on ensuring the firefighter is comfortable with it in all situations:
First and foremost eval it for improving firefighter safety. You guys sell these things based on their ability to find people in a burning building and I don't fault you for that as that's what sells them to the public. But I believe their greatest asset is their potential to improve fire fighter safety. Go to condemed buildings at night and look at structural flaws - holes in the floors, walls, all kinds of stuff.
See the studs/rafters/joists through the walls, ceilings and floors as applicable (e.g. through sheet rock, wood paneling, obviously not through concrete). To put it simply, I wouldn't buy an imager that can't do this, you'll never know what's above your head or below your feet.
Have an attack team do their thing under live fire conditions but add an imager to the mix.
Dunk it in water.
Get it hot (but not with a blow torch unless it's a nickle case).
Locate somebody in a pitch dark room.
Locate somebody (firefighter in an SCBA) in a hot and heavy smoke filled room/building.
Crawl with the camera in your hand. Can you crawl with it without it shutting off accidentally? Will something break if you bang it into something? Is it semi-comfortable to crawl with?
Navigate through a dark unfamiliar building with the imager.
Hide somebody in the woods, grass, cluttered area and do a search. We use the imager to check for people that may have been thrown from vehicles during accidents, possible drownings (will only locate them if they're floating), runaways, criminals, etc. Law enforcement calls us all the time for this stuff and we have a 99% success rate in just a couple of minutes when the person is actually in the area we are searching. We even used a TIC to catch an arson suspect at a car fire one night. (After several fire calls into the same neighborhood (cars, structures, grass), one night at a 3:00am car fire, the chief said "scan that thing around and see if anyone else is out here." We casually did that, found the suspect (he was standing just inside the woods about 50 yards away), pointed his location out to the SO and they caught him after a brief chase.)
Also, if I were a vendor at an eval, after explaining how to use my product and a little Q&A, I would go away for a while and let the firefighters do their eval. Leave a pager or cell phone number in case something comes up that can't wait, but otherwise just have us write down any other questions that may come up and the vendor can answer when they return.
If it were a multi vendor eval, I would say to my competing vendors "let's get out of here and let these firefighters do their thing for a few hours."
Don't get me wrong, we want you there to answer the questions, but we need some time amongst ourselves with the product. If a vendor is worried we'll break their TIC, they need to go back and redesign it.
The best presentation I've seen was after a presentation by one rep, a competing rep said "here's how you turn it on" and then went away. We got it to hot to hold without gloves, one guy dropped it on the asphalt from about waist high, and when it was all said and done the rep said "anyone want to go again?" No one did, he said OK, tossed it 20' in about a 6' arc onto the asphalt, it slide about 5'. One of the firefighters decided he'd like to try it again, walked over, picked it up, went back in and it worked fine.
[This message has been edited by S. Cook (edited January 10, 2000).]
01-11-2000, 08:50 AM #10FireOpticFirehouse.com Guest
These are an example of what I had hoped we'd develop during this forum.
Your testing recommendations are some of the best I've heard of and portions of it are similar to burns that we have attended.
Thanks for your inputs.
President - ICC
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