George McNeil, BS, NR-P, ISO
Captain Andy Starnes, AAS, FI-2, FO-3, NC-EMT
Thermal imaging has become the definitive tool for fire attack. Firefighters can now locate the seat of the fire quickly, identify & manage the flow path, and more efficiently extinguish the fire. In the past victims of fires were only located 60% of the time and now with the implementation of TIC usage, fire victims are located 99% of the time.
In the first part of TIC Academy column we discussed the components of the camera and how they work to give you visual rendering of a heat source. In the second part of TIC Academy we are going to discuss the specifics that we should take into consideration when we are purchasing a thermal imaging camera. Like any piece of equipment for the fire service, the purchasing process for equipment can be a long, lengthy process. If we do not take the time to properly consider the specifics of the equipment and just buy the first shiny price tag that comes along we might end up getting something that doesn’t fit the agencies needs or budget. And then we’re stuck with equipment that those funds could have been better allocated for. So, where do we start?
Conducting A Needs Assessment:
A department that has decided to purchase a TIC needs to base its purchase upon its standard operating guidelines, the TIC’s predominant type of use, and the budgetary constraints of the organization. For example, a department that has three TIC’s currently but would like to place a TIC on every Engine company they have will have to decide which areas they want to excel in: quantity or quality. With the price tag of TIC’s ranging from $5K-$15K for firefighting usage, the budget plays a huge part in the overall plan.
When we look at our department we are going to dig into department SOP’s and SOG’s for a few answers. One of the first things you want to look at are your alarm assignments. How many trucks do you get on each alarm, are you getting special service, are you getting a chief on every fire or are you a rural country department where your next engine might be twenty-five minutes away. Do you respond mutual aid with other agencies? What type of TIC do they currently use? Departments with limited purchasing power would be wise to join forces with their neighboring departments and purchase a larger amount of TIC’s at one time as certain manufacturers give discounts or offer a free TIC for every certain amount of TIC’s purchased.
Next, the department needs to define the TIC’s primary usage. Is the TIC going to be used for fire ground usage only? If so purchasing a TIC with numerous function modes, video recording, and bonus features may be a waste of their purchasing power. A fire department who implements tactical tic usage, which is to maximize the usage of the tic, would benefit from understanding the following:
A Thermal Imaging Camera can be used for:
- Size-up, Identification of Flow-Path, Finding Hot-Spots, Locating Cold-spots (where victims may be and the area where the fire may be progressing towards), and more.
- More Efficient Stream Placement: Directing the stream is enhanced by the guidance of the TIC.
- Enhanced Search Operations: Victims are now found 99% of the time with TIC usage
- Hazardous Material Incidents: An intrinsically safe TIC can be used in an flammable/explosive environment and can identify the source of leaks, fluid levels in tanks, and more.
- Search for Missing Persons: A TIC with higher resolution can see more detail from a much further distance thereby allowing a firefighter to see a missing person from further away (for example from an elevated location such as an aerial device.
And lastly, the department needs to understand there budget. Not every TIC that has a high price tag is worth its purchase and not every cheaper TIC is a ‘good buy.’ The organization has to do its homework and purchase the best camera for their specific use. They must keep in mind that most TIC’s have either a 1, 2, or 10 year warranty. When will your organization be able to purchase another TIC? How long do you foresee this equipment lasting based upon your departments past history? Keep these considerations in mind along with finding a dealer who will not only provide service after the sale, but training before, during, and after.
The economic downturn of the last several years has put a lot of departments in a financial hard spot and sometimes buying higher priced equipment is not an option. We need to decide how much we realistically can afford to spend when we get ready to purchase. What we here at FDC suggest is making a comparison sheet based on NFPA 1801 standard for thermal imaging cameras. There are currently seven TIC’s on the market that meet or exceed the NFPA 1801 standard. Follow this link to learn more about NFPA 1801 and its importance:
After your organization has completed its needs assessment, decided upon the budget and number of TIC’s to be purchased, then it’s time to contact the top three manufacturers on your list. Create an excel sheet comparing the three and have the sales representative demo the product. They should be willing to allow you to test it in a training fire environment. We do not advocate purchasing a TIC without testing it in the environment that you will predominantly use it in. Ideally you should come up with a list of four to six options and have the ability to eliminate two to four of the options and make a decision from there. The thing that is tricky as mentioned earlier is getting something that will work best for your department in your budget and that’s why you need to build a comparison sheet.
In TIC academy #3 we are going to delve deeper into using the thermal imaging camera and interpreting the data for tactical thermal imaging use to make your job on the fire ground more efficient.