Key Components of a TI Training Program

Nov. 7, 2006
You cannot develop a good training program until you have done research. This is true of any topic to be taught in the fire service.

The November issue of Firehouse Magazine presents the outline of a basic TI training program. Online, we'll look at specific components of the program in a little more depth, addressing certain steps you can take to make your program both interesting and effective.


You cannot develop a good training program until you have done research. This is true of any topic to be taught in the fire service. Again, as the program developer, you do not have to become an expert in the science of heat transfer and infrared detection. But you do have to know enough to present a coherent, intelligent discussion of the topics you cover.

Numerous online resources are available, as well as a vast library of print articles. In fact, start here. has archived almost four years of my articles. By no means is this the exhaustive research list, but you're already a MemberZone member, so use what's close and paid for. Other websites have various archives as well. On its website, Bullard hosts all of the articles it has helped author. You can find them at: Some of these articles date back to the infancy of the TI market, and do a good job of explaining the basic technology. Other manufacturers have various resources on their websites, as do different fire service websites. For online work, venture outside of the fire service as well. Some universities and professors post interesting articles on the technology.

When you are tired of pointing and clicking, you can research the old fashioned way: on paper. All of the major fire and emergency service magazines have published articles on thermal imaging. Go through the library at the firehouse (after all, no one actually throws away old copies of Firehouse, right?), or even in your basement. Clip out or photocopy the articles, so you can reduce the amount of paper you need to lug around as you formulate your lesson plan.

Classroom vs. Hands-on

There is a critical balance to be played here. Classroom education, by far, is the easiest to create and present. You reach a large number of firefighters quickly and easily. However, actual manipulation and real-life thermal imaging is immensely valuable. Ideally, a program will include aspects of both to facilitate learning. In reality, you may have to sacrifice some hands-on training in the interest of your own sanity. For example, giving 50 members a chance to change the TI battery is relatively easy. Giving 50 members a chance to crawl through a burn tower and see thermal layers with the TI will take hours of planning and an equal number of hours to accomplish.

Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to accomplish everything at once with the "be-all and end-all" TI training program. Some very good trainers have been teaching thermal imaging for a decade or so, and they still modify and improve their training programs. Look at your program as a work in progress. Get a solid base in place and expand it as you need and desire.

But even at the base level, include basic hands-on activities. Activating the TI, changing batteries, scanning a room...all of these can be done quickly and easily, and help develop familiarity with the tool.


Humans are visual animals: 80% of human communication is accomplished through what we see, rather than what we say or hear. Take advantage of that and use visuals to help convey your message. That said, don't go crazy. You want to enhance the message, not overwhelm the senses and send people into seizures.

PowerPoint has 128 different ways (give or take) that you can make text and images appear, rotate, be emphasized, change colors, disappear or float away. Just because all of these are available does not mean you have to use them all. Think of it this way: your engine company has 2,500 feet or so of hose...and you don't deploy all of it at every incident, right? When you develop the program, just use a few key features to sustain motion and keep interest. If you use too many gimmicks, your message gets lost and people get frustrated.

Whenever you can, accent your point with a photo or video clip that helps describe what you are teaching. When you discuss a good, safe shoulder-to-shoulder scan, show a video clip of a firefighter doing it. During the overhaul segment of the class, show a thermal image of a hot light switch or active circuit. Get the class involved in seeing what they will see in real life.

Teach, Don't Read

As you develop your presentation, make bullet points rather than writing sentences. The goal of the PowerPoint (or however you develop the presentation) is to emphasize key points from what you are teaching. It is an outline, or Cliff Notes. It's not the entire text of the class.

Your students can read, so don't create a presentation that eliminates the need for you to be there. Frankly, it's boring. For example, if you have a slide emphasizing that infrared energy can be absorbed by some materials, be reflected off of others and pass through a few other materials, make the slide hit the key points by showing a visual:

  • Infrared energy takes 3 paths
  • Absorbed (bricks, asphalt, concrete)
  • Reflected (glass, aluminum, brass)
  • Transmitted (certain plastics, TI lens)

Then you talk to the points, rather than having a slide that reads:

  • Infrared energy can be absorbed by some materials, like bricks and asphalt.
  • It can be reflected off some materials, like glass and aluminum.
  • It can be transmitted, or pass through, some materials, like the TI lens.

Small difference...but it is an important one. Adults don't mind being taught; they do mind being read to.


If you undertake this program, be ready for a ton of work. As I mentioned last month, at Bullard I inherited a solid base program from which to expand. However, if you do solid research on the front side, set realistic expectations on what the program can accomplish, and then design and effective, efficient presentation, you will be amazed at the end product. Plus, once you have that base, you can continually work to improve and expand on it.

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 police officer in Lexington, Kentucky. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to [email protected].

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