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Thermal Imagers Should Have Permanent Real Estate On Your Coat

       Firefighters are taught numerous things in their careers. This learning process begins on day one of their career, regardless of paid or volunteer, and the learning process never stops. The fire service is an ever changing environment, not just the fire scene, but the service itself. We have a lot of technology coming into our business. These things called self-contained breathing apparatus, thermal imaging cameras, and all these fancy tools like air shores and MPD’s for technical rescues are something that firefighters decades ago would have killed for. Can you imagine handing them a piece of equipment and telling them “This will allow you to see through smoke, find fire, and aid in finding victims.” Their eyes would light up.

       Unfortunately, that awesome tool that can see through smoke, find fire, and aid in finding potential victims is left on the apparatus more times than not. I agree firefighters have a lot on their plates. We are responsible for a lot of people, a lot of property, and are expected to know how to mitigate every incident we respond to. This isn’t just medicals, fires, and wrecks. We don’t respond to 10 incident types, or 100, or 1000. We responds the thousands and thousands of various calls in nature and it seems we sometimes always get surprised by that one call we’ve never seen before and are reminded we definitely haven’t seen everything, and we never will.


       The thermal imaging camera (TIC) should be looked at as any other tool that firefighters reach for coming off the rig on the fire ground. It should have its own piece of real estate on your fire coat. When searching structures this tool can cut your search times in half, but it’s not a fix all tool. It takes time to learn and figure this piece of equipment out. You don’t just kneel down in doorways and scan rooms with it and then continue on down the hallway to the next room. We still have to place firefighters in rooms and physically search the like we we’re taught sometimes because victims, especially smaller children or elderly adults, can very easily be masked by other objects and the firefighter operating the TIC could miss them. When VEIS (Vent, Enter, Isolate, Search) is the way we’re searching rooms on the fire ground; the window man with the TIC can aid the firefighter that entered the structure with locating the room’s door quickly to close it and isolate his self from the fire compartment. Once this is complete we have now bought us more time to sweep that room. The window man can communicate with the interior searching firefighter and somewhat “lead” him through the room via a visual picture from the thermal imager’s screen, again we are tag teaming that room per se’ because we have technology helping us and we have a firefighter with hands and knees on the ground doing our job. It is imperative that you train on these tactics and see what works and what doesn’t.


       When utilizing the TIC for interior structural firefighting there are some do and don’ts as well. This tool can be used to find the seat of the fire quicker, search for life off the line, and aid company officers in guiding their crew members through the structure. I have seen, read, taught, and trained on numerous ways to do these things. We can look for super-heated gases coming down hallways and under the tops of doorways to allow us to crawl towards to seat of the fire or visually look for the red/white glow on the screen to see the fire itself. When Company Officers are utilizing this tool for the purpose of guiding crewmembers then two different ways can be used. The OIC can be the lead man with the camera and guide his nozzle crew to the fire and then move them ahead of himself as they approach the seat of the fire for extinguishment, or he can be the third man back looking over his crew members and scanning ahead of them for the signs of life and fire. I encourage the second method for multiple reasons. These reasons include crew management, crew integrity, and if there we’re to be a chance of a rapid fire progression event take place ahead, the CO isn’t left up front without a hand line to cool the interior down and protect himself. He’s also letting his crew learn to feel and crawl their way through limited visibility areas and allowing them to use their senses while watching them and ONLY directing different actions as needed, remember as a CO we don’t want to micromanage our members. We need them to learn on their own and step in and make adjustments when needed, you didn’t learn everything by doing it right the first time, and neither will they. If it is a safety issue, deviates from the plan of action, or is simply the wrong action then step in; other than that let these members do their thing and use each missed moment as a teaching moment.

• Look at barrels, tanks, or trucks for Hazmat and see how much liquid is in them
• Search for missing persons outside of structures
• RIT Crews can utilize them
• Vertical Vent crews can use them on the roof to check for fire below them

• Water Rescue (Water reflects image back to you like a mirror)
• Look through walls for searches (Can’t see through solid objects)
• Deer Hunting (HAHAHA don’t think you haven’t thought about it guys)
• Leaving it on the charger on the rig

       Remember that the thermal imaging camera isn’t a catch all. It takes time to learn this piece of equipment and training time behind it is the only way to do that. It doesn’t need to be depended on like it’s the ONLY way to go. It is still our job to put ourselves between the fire and potential victims and that means hands and knees on the ground, tools sweeping areas, and doing what we do.

God Bless you all, Stay Safe, and remember when you’re First-In it’s YOUR call….WILL YOU BE READY?

First-In FireFighter

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