What To Do with Old Thermal Imagers

July 1, 2007
Options Include Trade-Ins, Disposal and Reserve Status

Fire departments across North America have been actively buying thermal imagers (TIs) for nine years. As a result, use and coverage of these valuable tools has expanded. But there are also a number of departments that have older TIs they are ready to replace. And replacement begs the common question, "What do I do with the old one?"

There are several options, including trade-in, retirement or reserve status. This article examines all three options.


Whenever we buy an expensive item, we still see value in the item, even when it is old and ready to be replaced. This approach probably crosses over from our personal life, such as when we buy a new car. The dealership knows that we have a vehicle we no longer want or need, and offers us a trade-in value to the purchase of the new car.

This market has carried forward to the fire service somewhat. Fire trucks and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) commonly receive a trade-in value, but few other items do. Historically, thermal imagers have fallen into this second category for several reasons. First, unlike used cars, there is a limited market for used TIs. For whatever reason, fire departments prefer buying new equipment to used equipment, especially when it comes to TIs. Second, TIs do not have a "revenue stream." SCBA trade-ins can make sense because the distributor and the manufacturer know that you will be purchasing multiple spare parts and service programs from them. TIs do not have the same level of maintenance (although they are not maintenance-free), so a supplier cannot rely on future revenue.

This does not mean there are no trade-in programs. Some distributors, either on their own or with the support of the manufacturer, will offer a trade-in value for an old TI. Check with your local distributor to learn whether you can trade-in your old TI. These programs are limited, so don't be surprised if the answer is, "No." But it never hurts to ask.


Sometimes, retirement (or disposal) is the course chosen for items that no longer have value. For example, old turnout gear may be retired and destroyed when a new set arrives. Or, the gear may be donated to a fire department with few financial resources (domestically or abroad). Either way, the gear is removed from service permanently with the fire department that owns it.

This is an option for TIs as well. Obviously, if the TI no longer functions and the imager cannot be repaired cost-effectively, then disposal is probably the primary option. However, if the TI still functions, there may be a rural department in your state that would gratefully accept your "old, used TI" as a "brand-new tool" for them.

In larger departments that aggressively track capital assets, this may require some paperwork and bureaucratic wrangling, but donation can be a good way of helping out our brothers in the fire service who do not have solid financial backing. Keep in mind that if you do donate the TI to a fire department outside the United States, there may be export documentation and restrictions that you will have to follow.

Reserve Status

For the majority of departments, moving the TI to reserve status is probably the best option. Remember, just because the TI is old does not necessarily mean that it no longer detects heat. Your department could be upgrading because of new features, a desire for a new supplier or to buy a design that better fits your operations. All of these are valid reasons for buying a new TI, but it has not made the old TI obsolete.

The old model can be moved to a less- active company that may not get a TI otherwise. This expands TI coverage within your department and helps ensure that a TI arrives on a scene as early as possible. Or, a TI could be permanently installed on a reserve truck to help outfit a reserve company with proper tools in case a primary truck is down for extended service.

A reserve TI can also be maintained in case a front-line TI goes down with damage or for preventive maintenance. The reserve can be placed on the front-line company until the normally assigned TI returns to service. Additionally, a reserve TI can be assigned to the training academy, allowing instructors to monitor training drills more safely.

The primary challenge in reserve status is that a department could have two or three technologies from different manufacturers (or even the same manufacturer). As such, image interpretation, feature usage, and overall training and proficiency can differ. A training program needs to cover these differences to help avoid misinterpretation or misuse of the TI.


Expansion of TI usage in the fire service is great for firefighters, as it improves their ability to operate safely. It is also great for the public, as it can reduce property loss and increase rescue success. As fire departments buy more TIs, they face a challenge of what to do with the old ones. Trade-in may be an option, but there is a limited market for TI trade-ins. Retirement is also an option, especially if the department is well-equipped with TIs. It can donate unneeded equipment to help equip less-fortunate departments. However, for most departments, the best option will be to place the old TI into a reserve status, expanding coverage or ensuring coverage when a front-line TI goes down.

JONATHAN BASTIAN is a thermal imaging specialist for Bullard. He is certified as a thermal imaging instructor by the Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association (LETA). He is also the author of the FD Training Network "FireNotes" book, Thermal Imaging for the Fire Service. Bastian served 12 years on the North Park, IL, Fire Department, including the last three as a captain. He has taught classes on thermal imaging, rapid intervention teams and search and rescue operations. He is currently a public safety official in Central Kentucky. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to [email protected].

Voice Your Opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Firehouse, create an account today!