Developing a Thermal Imaging Training Program

Oct. 1, 2006

For more than two years, this column has presented numerous training tips to help firefighters use their thermal imagers (Tis) more effectively. Short, practical training exercises were provided with the intention of improving user understanding and comfort with the TI. This month and next month, the column will discuss how fire departments can create their own formalized TI training programs.

The first step in the process is determining if the program should be done "in-house," and if it is, what resources will be needed.

Inside vs. Outside

Prior to developing an in-house TI training program, a fire department must determine whether this approach is feasible. Creating an adequate training program is a significant undertaking that demands an extensive amount of time and considerable resources. Smaller fire departments, as well as larger departments with over-extended training divisions, may find that it can be simpler and more effective to use an outside resource. There may be disadvantages, however, to outsourcing TI training.

There are three primary resources for pre-existing training programs. First, a number of state fire training organizations have developed TI programs. For example, the Illinois Fire Service Institute offers a 12-hour TI training program. Through the Cornerstone program of the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the program can be delivered on site at no cost to any fire department in the state. The advantages of state programs can include low costs as well as uniform training with neighboring fire departments. Disadvantages can include the need to send members to distant training sites, as well as inflexible presentations that may be too generic to apply to the department's unique operations.

Second, fire departments can contract with private companies that specialize in TI training. For example, Safe-IR is a private company that maintains relationships with all of the fire service TI manufacturers and provides training around North America to TI users. A quality training company will use instructors who are experienced firefighters, as well as extremely knowledgeable in the science and tactics of thermal imaging use. The best training companies will offer professional presentations that are accurate as well as relevant. Some even customize presentations to individual departments, differentiating between large or small career departments, rural or urban departments, and the like. There are also disadvantages to the private approach. It can be difficult to qualify a private company, as there is no National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard for TI training. Cost may also be a major consideration, especially if the training must reach a large number of firefighters.

The third external TI training option is to take advantage of the resources offered by the manufacturer of the department's TI. While many manufacturers contract with private training companies, some have developed their own training programs to be delivered by a company employee or by a distributor's salesperson. Since most TI manufacturers are relatively large corporations, they can devote the financial resources necessary to develop top-quality training material. They also have specific expertise in thermal imaging and in their individual products. Frequently, this training is provided at no extra cost. Potential disadvantages to relying on the TI supplier include the possibility that trainers will not be experienced as firefighters. It is also possible, when using a manufacturer's program, that training will be simplified to concentrate more on how to operate the features of the TI rather than how to use the tool itself.

What's Needed Inside?

If the fire department determines that internal development is the proper way to pursue long-term TI training, then its leaders need to recognize what assets will be needed to create a solid program. The fire department will have to commit an adequate amount of time, the proper technology and the right people to make the program worthwhile.

Microsoft PowerPoint has become a mainstay of fire instruction. PowerPoint provides the instructor an easy way to customize training for large numbers of students, without demanding extensive physical resources. Creating a PowerPoint presentation from scratch can be a grueling, time-consuming process. Department leaders must acknowledge that internal program developers will have to commit a considerable amount of time to creating the basic training presentation. Additionally, the presentation will be much more effective with relevant visuals embedded in it. This means that photographs of the TI in use, as well as thermal images, need to be gathered, edited and placed. For optimal effectiveness, the developer should embed small thermal imaging video clips to illustrate real-life use of the technology.

Program development not only takes time, but also the technology to carry it out. Developers will need access to computers and software powerful enough to create the presentation, catalog photographs and edit video clips from raw TI footage. A full-featured video editing program, such as Adobe Premiere, can cost more than $500. Developers will also need access to ancillary technology that will allow them to collect all of the media needed for the presentation. Digital cameras and digital video recorders make the transition to computer easier; a wireless transmitter or hardwire video connection makes TI image capture possible.

Perhaps the most important component of internal development is using the right people for the task. Development may be entrusted to a team of three or four people, or borne solely on the shoulders of one poor soul. The developer must be computer-savvy and comfortable with all of the technological aspects of development, as well as the technological aspects of thermal imaging.


A number of high-quality resources are available to fire departments seeking formal TI training. Externally, a fire department can consider statewide training organizations, private training companies or TI manufacturers. Use of each of these potential sources offers advantages and disadvantages. If the fire department chooses internal development, it must commit an adequate amount of time, the proper technology and the right people in order to create a good program.

For additional insight on the type of commitment needed for internal development, visit the Technology section of Next month, this column will discuss the steps to developing a TI training program in-house.

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, KY. If you have questions about thermal imaging, please send them to [email protected].

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