Getting Thermal Imagers Through the Budget Process

Aug. 1, 2005


As budget time approaches, a number of fire departments will yet again request thermal imagers (TIs). Many departments will struggle to convince their budgetary authorities to fund the request. TIs may be removed from the budget either because department leaders themselves are not completely "sold" on the need for TIs or because they are unable to convince budgetary authorities that TIs are necessary firefighting tools. For fire department leaders to budget and win more TIs, they must take three critical steps: communicate the value, make it personal and give them numbers.

Communicate the Value

Budgeting is a difficult process of balancing priorities. The process demands that certain funding requests are reduced or eliminated, and leadership will ensure that the highest priority items are not sacrificed. One key element to convincing decision-makers to prioritize TIs is to explain thoroughly the benefits of this technology in firefighting.

  • Benefit 1: Firefighter safety
    It is a proven fact that TIs save firefighter lives and dramatically reduce the risk of injury on the job. Thermal imaging technology aids firefighters in identifying compromised truss roofs and deciding to evacuate fire companies prior to collapse. Firefighters using TIs have discovered missing floor sections prior to entering a room or hallway. Rapid intervention teams equipped with TIs have found lost or injured firefighters in seconds, rather than minutes, leading them quickly to safety.
Benefit 2: Search and rescue Of all the operations in which thermal imaging can improve a firefighter's efforts, the most convincing benefit is during search and rescue. Explain to budgetary authorities that without a thermal imager, firefighters search burning buildings by crawling on their hands and knees and groping blindly in smoke to find victims. Thermal imagers also enable first responders to find lost or endangered victims in poor visibility due to darkness, vegetation or fog. Benefit 3: Finding the fire While the life-saving benefits of thermal imaging are the most valuable, firefighters use the technology most frequently to trace heat sources. TIs assist in fire attack, helping companies find the fire faster and apply water more accurately, causing less damage. TIs make the overhaul process less demanding by helping firefighters identify hotspots. Instead of pulling entire sections of ceiling or wall, firefighters can concentrate their efforts on the areas of greatest concern. Because firefighters are directing their energy to worrisome areas, they are wasting less energy and becoming less fatigued. More accurate identification of hotspots reduces the damage from overhaul and helps prevent rekindles.

Department leadership must understand, accept and then convince authorities of the value and need for TIs. If leaders believe TIs are critical firefighting tools, they will be more successful in defending the expenditure.

Make It Personal

Whether you demonstrate the technology with a borrowed TI or through the use of a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, speak to the priorities of your audience and direct your presentation to them personally.

Describe a fire or emergency in the homes or businesses of the people in the audience. Show them how you search for victims in structure fires without thermal imaging. Explain the tactics you use to gain control of a fire without the aid of thermal imaging. Tell them about the dangers of burning buildings for firefighters in your community. Ensure the audience understands how difficult your job can be without a TI.

Go through each scenario again, using visual aids and real incident photos where possible to demonstrate how TIs make your job easier. If possible, put a thermal imager in the hands of budgetary authorities. Communities around the country have successfully convinced decision-makers by simulating search and rescue situations. Whether your demonstration is conducted in a training structure or in a dark room, your goal is for participants to experience the difficulty of searching in smoke versus the ease of searching with a TI. To clarify the value, time the participants as they search with and without a TI. Show them how much time they saved with a TI.

Give Them Numbers

Emotional appeals for money rarely survive the budget process. To demonstrate that an expenditure is valuable and justifiable, department leadership must convince budgetary authorities that the perceived benefits of the expenditure outweigh the proposed cost. With some diligent research, any fire department should be able to estimate cost savings to the community by measuring past statistics and projecting how the use of TIs would impact the numbers. In calculating community costs, consider the following:

  • Reduced fire losses leading to reduced insurance rates;
  • Improved overhaul leading to less damaged structural material and less material in local landfills during the rebuilding phase;
  • Reduced firefighter injuries leading to lower workman's compensation expenses;
  • Reduced time on scene, leading to lower cost of operations for each incident;
  • Improved water use leading to lower water costs, less runoff and reduced environmental concerns;
  • Anything else with tangible value that is improved through TI usage.


If TIs are to be integrated universally into the fire service, leaders must become champions for TIs. They must believe and demand that TIs are critical tools needed for the safety and welfare of their firefighters and the public they serve. Conveying this message effectively requires a careful plan to communicate the value, make the message personal and provide the numbers needed to justify this important purchase.

Public Affairs Manager Rebecca Scholer directs thermal imaging funding programs for Bullard. In 2003, she developed and managed the introduction of the inSIGHT fundraising program, which helps firefighters and community leaders raise money locally for thermal imagers. Scholer also manages grant assistance programs offered by Bullard to fire departments seeking thermal imagers. She has a bachelor of science degree in journalism from Ball State University and an MBA from Indiana University. She may be contacted at [email protected].

Jonathan Bastian is the former thermal imaging training manager at Bullard. He is certified as a thermal imaging instructor by the Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association (LETA), the international public safety organization specializing in thermal imager certification and training. He is also a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Fire Service Training. Educated at Brown University and licensed as a high school teacher in Illinois, Bastian served 12 years on the North Park, IL, Fire Department, including the last three as a captain. As health and safety officer, he led the development and implementation of the department's rapid intervention team SOG. Bastian is a certified Fire Instructor I and Firefighter III, and he spent 12 years as an EMT-I/D. He has taught classes on thermal imaging, rapid intervention teams, and search and rescue operations. Bullard is happy to answer any questions about thermal imaging; contact the company at [email protected].

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