Roundtable: Thermal Imaging Cameras

Editor's Note: Due to a scheduling error, our August Roundtable ran in July. To see that question, which concerns tornado response policy, CLICK HERE.

By John 'Skip' Coleman

I remember when Toledo got their first thermal imagers. Two or three helmet mounted imagers. They stayed in the box most of the time after the "newness" wore off. We eventually got some smaller hand-held imagers. To the best of my recollection, they too were not widely used.
As you may be aware, I teach a little concerning search. I have written a book about the subject. When I teach, the question of imagers comes up from time to time. I will be discussing search techniques and someone raises their hand and then says "Hey! What about imagers?"

I usually respond "What about imagers?" Now, I don't want to sound like an old retired firefighter but, as yet, I am not convinced that the imager is as good now as it will be someday. Usually, most departments that have them have only one per apparatus. Someday, every firefighter will have a built-in imager in the lens of his or her SCBA face piece. Until then, they are a tool with limited capabilities.

Question: Does your department have thermal imaging cameras, and when do you actually use one? Also, does your department have a written policy concerning imager use?


Harry Loud, Wantagh (NY) Fire Department, Public Information Officer:
The Wantagh F.D. operates with nine(9) TICs, one in each of the chiefs cars (4) and one each in the two ladder trucks, one engine, one squad, and the safety car. We have no written policy in their use and, as you mentioned, "consider it another tool"

However, we find the cameras very useful during appliance fires in which fire can escape into plumbing walls and during chimney fires which extend through a home. By checking with the camera, it reduces unneccesary damage of poking holes etc.

We also find it very useful during the overhauling stages of a fire and as this department covers two major parkways which run through woodlands and wetlands, find it indespensible at night if there is the possibilty of an ejection during an automobile accident. We are able to place a tower ladder into position, raise the bucket, and have a man inside scanning the area. It eliminates members walking through swamps, poison ivy and any other thing the area can throw at us.

In addition, we train with it for its primary purpose of finding downed victims and hidden fire.

Yes it's a tool, and a very good one at that .

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