the most precious tools any firefighter possesses in their arsenal is the power
of sight. The capacity to perceive and analyze dangerous areas, victims in need
of assistance, and the appropriate course of action for a given situation
creates a vital layer of security within a highly perilous occupation.
Unfortunately, the nature of firefighting can have a direct impact on this
valuable device by blocking vision with dust residue, smoke, and other
handicaps that make working in dangerous situations more complex.
decades, firefighters across the globe have sought
a way to see through the smoke and soot so that they might more accurately
locate victims, discover the seat of fires, and offer assistance in the places
it is most needed. Fortunately, the latest technological innovations in thermal
imaging over the past two decades have begun to partially restore firefighters'
sight. Thermal imaging cameras, commonly known as "TICs," are now
appearing within emergency service units as a method of helping firefighters
navigate through hazardous situations.
Can Thermal Imaging Do?
Originally, thermal imaging
technology was used by the military, with special operations units within law
enforcement acting as one of the first groups to adopt TICs within civilian
situations. As the technology of thermal imaging continued to evolve and
improve, the firefighting services recognized its pertinence within their field
and began to embrace TICs for use in firefighting.
properly used, a thermal imaging unit can help firefighters in a number of
critical and potentially life saving ways. Thermal imaging can allow crews to
monitor dangerous conditions more effectively, place members of personnel in
sensitive areas to form control lines, and enhance the safety of operations.
Firefighters may also utilize thermal imaging to help them navigate through
smoke in the search for victims, and the introduction of portable units, longer
operating times, and alkaline batteries has helped to make the technology more appropriate
to the tasks of a wildland firefighter.
How Do Thermal Imaging Cameras Work?
Thermal imaging cameras
work by detecting heat energy emitted within a particular radius. These cameras
can sense heat energy through a number of different filters that would obstruct
regular vision, including smoke and dust. Thermal imaging can also detect
energy that is restricted behind a door or wall, as well as evidence of heat
reflected from water or mirrors, though the source of the heat may not be
located at these points.
they are known as "cameras," it is important to note that the TICs
utilized by the fire service only detect
variations in heat signatures.
In other words, observing objects through a thermal imaging camera wouldn't
present the same results as if you were looking at the same object in normal
light. In most circumstances, a TIC is unlikely to show clear details, and
there can be some alterations in the way that depth is perceived.
Common Applications Of Thermal Imaging
imaging can be used in a number of different formats to assist firefighters and
other members of the emergency services in carrying out their duties. The
following options are just some of the most frequently accessed application of
- Monitoring the head and
flank of a wildfire from the air: Using a thermal imaging unit,
the location and progress of a fire can be carefully surveyed and examined from
an aerial position, regardless of the light or smoke conditions present. This
means that a fire can be monitored in circumstances that would otherwise make
accuracy impossible. After sizing up a large-scale fire, thermal imaging allows
firefighters to determine where the seat of the fire is, thereby making it
easier to properly deploy the correct resources for an efficient counter
- Detecting dangerous hot
spots through darkness, smoke, foliage, and fog: If a firefighter
understands how to properly use thermal imaging, they can use their TIC to
monitor the movement of fire on the ground, even when direct sight of that fire
is obscured. The volume of fire bands and the direction of the blaze can be
monitored and tracked, meaning that with practice, firefighters can identify
critical areas, and enhance their safety on the job.
- Search and rescue
missions: Thermal imaging can be used to search out trapped victims in
a dangerous situation as it allows firefighters to see through the smoke and
track the body heat of an injured or unresponsive individual. This can be
particularly important in cases when intervention teams are rapidly searching
for a potentially wounded individual. In the same vein, TICs can be used to
track heat differentials for spotting people in dark areas, which can be
particularly useful in searching for missing persons.
The Advantages And Limitations Of Thermal Imaging
Thermal imaging devices
encompass a number of advantages and limitations just like any other
technological advancement available today. For example, though handheld TICs
are portable and useful in the sense that they can be shared among various
crewmembers, it's worth remembering that handheld units require manual operation,
which can slow down rescue missions. Similarly, though a helmet-mounted camera
or thermal imaging goggles can be useful in helping firefighters conduct
operations hands-free, these devices cannot be easily transferred from one
professional to another in emergency situations.
one of the most dangerous things any firefighter can do when using a TIC is
believe that their vision has been completely restored. Unfortunately, thermal
imaging cameras can only offer a partial insight into the smoke-covered world
around a firefighter. Though these technological advances can ensure that
firefighters are not completely blind in the course of duty, their ability to
see will ultimately be restricted by the limitations of the technology, as well
as their own environment. Although thermal imaging cameras can penetrate
through smoke and other obstructions, they are not x-ray machines, and they do
not provide complete clarity of vision.
The best way to optimize the use of thermal imaging is to
provide firefighters with training on how to use the equipment they have been
given. This training should include
information on the difficulties of detecting fires burning in specific
areas and the limitations that all TICs suffer from.
Should All Firefighters Have TICs?
It's easy to see that thermal
imaging devices can be used to improve a wide variety of firefighting
operations, from saving victims in internal structures to improving the effectiveness
of teams in the wildland from both the air and ground.
How do you feel about the advent
of thermal imaging within the emergency services? Do you believe that all
firefighters should be given TIC equipment when it can be put to good use? Let
us know what you think.