Thermal imaging cameras (TICs) allow firefighters to see outlines of hot spots in smoky or pitch-black settings, whether those spots are humans or hot areas within a building.
Most TICs are handheld units, although some have been installed on apparatus, like on the tips of ladders, platforms, light towers, and masts. And, some self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) makers have been working on integrating a TIC into their controllers so images can be shown in a heads-up display (HUD).
FLIR Systems Inc. has been in the TIC fire market since 1999, says Keith Sawyer, FLIR’s sales and distribution manager for the fire service. “We introduced our K series with the K40 and K50 in January 2013 and two years later replaced them with the K45 and K55 TICs, also adding the K65,” he says. “In the K45, we added flexible scene enhancement (FSX), which increases the contrast ratios in blacks and whites and makes corners and edges sharper in the image.” The K55 has the same resolution, look and feel, and battery as the K45 but allows image and video capture. “It can take up to five minutes of video, play it back on the camera, and store up to 200 videos, which is 1,000 minutes of video capture,” Sawyer says. FLIR’s K65 TIC is its National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)-compliant model that also offers in-camera video capture and storage for up to 200 five-minute clips and has a screwed-down battery lock that makes the unit explosion-resistant and intrinsically safe, Sawyer points out.
|1 FLIR Systems Inc. makes the K65 TIC that has in-camera video capture and storage of up to 200 five-minute clips. (Photo courtesy of FLIR Systems Inc.)|
FLIR also makes the K2 point-and-shoot TIC as well as an aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) model. “Our ARFF model is a hard-shell box-type TIC that often is mounted at the bottom of an aerial platform or on the end of a boom,” Sawyer notes, “and has pan-tilt-zoom features as well as high-resolution imaging and high frame rates.”
|2 A firefighter views the thermal imaging screen on a FLIR Systems Inc. K55 TIC. (Photo courtesy of FLIR Systems Inc.)|
Wells Bullard, vice president of Bullard, says her company got into thermal imaging in 1998, two years after the technology was declassified by the military. “We designed a thermal imaging tool for firefighters that is extremely durable, simple to use, and ergonomic,” Bullard says. The Eclipse LDX is Bullard’s most popular TIC model, she notes, with a 3½-inch display and an ergonomic design that fits in the palm of a hand. “It weighs only 1½ pounds, is exceptionally durable, and gives an extremely clear image in ambient and high-temperature environments,” she adds.
|3 Bullard makes the Eclipse LDX TIC that weighs 1½ pounds and has a 3½-inch screen. (Photo courtesy of Bullard.)|
Bullard also makes the T3X, a slightly larger unit with a strap on the side that allows a gloved hand to hold the unit securely. “It uses the same technology and screen size as the Eclipse and allows the user to add an accessory handle,” Bullard says. “Our T4X is 3½ pounds with a 4.3-inch screen display that has great visibility and an electronic thermal throttle (ETT), which allows users to highlight the hottest spots in the fire. It’s great for size-up and overhaul.” The ETT is available as an option on the T3X and Eclipse LDX models, Bullard says, and the Eclipse LDX has the option to add onboard DVR to capture up to four hours of video.
|4 The T3X TIC, by Bullard, has a strap on the side to allow a gloved hand to hold it securely. (Photo courtesy of Bullard.)|
Sean Meigs, fire service market manager for TICs at MSA, says MSA’s most popular model is its Evolution 6000. “It has a laser rangefinder on the front of the camera, a buddy light on the inside, and a dual handle to give flexibility of use to a firefighter,” Meigs says. “A firefighter isn’t always on his feet, so the dual handles allow the TIC to be crawled with easier or leaned on if needed. This is an NFPA-compliant camera that’s designed to be tough and withstand the rigors of being in a fire situation.”
|5 MSA makes the Evolution 6000 TIC that has a laser rangefinder on its front and a dual handle to provide more flexibility in its use. (Photo courtesy of MSA.)|
Meigs says that MSA continues to make TIC products designed before the Evolution 6000 was introduced, notably the Evolution 5600 and 5200HD series of TICs. “Firefighters are interested in image quality, weight is a factor, and they want more portability,” Meigs points out.
Brad Harvey, vertical market manager for fire services at Scott Safety, says Scott Safety purchased the thermal imaging company ISG in the fall of 2014 “because it was a good opportunity for us to acquire a dedicated TIC company.” Scott Safety now offers the X380 NFPA-compliant TIC, the XRHR thermal imager, and the Eagle Attack TIC.
|6 The MSA Evolution 5600 TIC incorporates Heat Seeker and Quick Temp functions in the unit. (Photo courtesy of MSA.)|
“The X380 has a very high image resolution and picture quality,” Harvey points out, “and a high temperature range for visibility. The average temperature range to register is between 1,050°F and 1,300°F, but the X380 can see up to 2,000°F.” The unit weighs 2.2 pounds and has a 3½-inch screen. The XRHR TIC is the size of a small football and is gripped from the side instead of on a handle, Harvey notes. It has the same characteristics as the X380 but in a different form. The Eagle Attack TIC is Scott Safety’s lightweight thermal imager that has a 2½-inch screen.
|7 Avon Protection Systems, which owns Argus, makes the MI-TIC Edge and MI-TIC Storm. The Edge (yellow TIC) is designed to work at the edge of a fire for size-up and overhaul, while the Storm (red TIC) is meant to be used inside structures. (Photo courtesy of Avon Protection Systems.)|
Tony Topf, senior global products manager for Avon Protection Systems, notes that Avon acquired United Kingdom-based thermal imaging maker Argus from e2v Technologies recently, adding a variety of TIC products to Avon’s offerings. “The most common in firefighting use are the Argus 3 and 4 binocular-style TICs,” he says, “and the pistol-grip-style MI-TIC, Edge, and Storm models.”
|8 The Nvision XTP TIC, by Avon Protection Systems, features video and image capture, colorization, and zoom. (Photo courtesy of Avon Protection Systems.)|
The Edge and Storm are being replaced by MI-TIC Edge and Storm models, Topf says, that feature customer-configurable software in the camera that can be used to make changes to their use. The MI-TIC Edge is NFPA-compliant and designed to work at the edge of a fire for size-up and overhaul, Topf adds, while the MI-TIC Storm, which was expected to be in production at the end of 2015 and is NFPA-compliant, is meant to be used inside buildings by interior structural firefighters. “In addition, we believe we are the only TIC manufacturer using lithium ion phosphate batteries,” Topf says, “instead of lithium ion batteries. The benefit is they are environmentally friendly products, have greater longevity, and have a similar power density to lithium ion batteries.”
|9 Draeger makes the UCF 9000 thermal imaging camera that has a 4x zoom and video playback features. (Photo courtesy of Draeger.)|
Les Boord, fire services director at Draeger, says his company makes four TIC models: the UCF 6000, 7000, 8000, and 9000. “All are NFPA-compliant and intrinsically safe-that is, they are not an ignition source in a hazardous, explosive environment,” Boord says.
|10 Draeger’s series of TICs have brightness sensors that adapt the display to various lighting conditions. (Photo courtesy of Draeger.)|
Draeger’s flagship model TIC is the UCF 9000, Boord notes, that offers a 384- by 288-pixel screen resolution and 4x zoom as well as video playback. The unit provides visibility in temperatures up to 1,842°F and has brightness sensors to adapt the display to various lighting conditions, an integrated laser pointer to pinpoint hazards and air communications, and a snapshot function for freeze-framing images.
MSA has been working on a proof-of-concept design of integrating a TIC into its G1 SCBA control module, Meigs says. “It’s a concept right now where we integrated it into the LCD screen on the control panel,” he notes. “A button changes the information from the pressure remaining in the cylinder to a TIC screen. The feedback we received on the unit was positive, but we are not pursuing the project yet. Some firefighters have asked for thermal imaging to show up in the HUD, but our primary concern is to find a way to make that thermal imaging in the G1 HUD to be beneficial on the fireground yet not distracting at the same time.”
|11 Scott Safety, through its purchase of thermal imaging company ISG, now offers the X380 NFPA-compliant TIC. The X380 TIC weighs 2.2 pounds and can see up to 2,000°F. (Photo courtesy of Scott Safety.)|
In Massachusetts, an engineer working at BAE Systems has invented a periscopic camera called Thermal on Demand (TOD) that attaches to the outside of a firefighter’s face piece over his right eye. The camera is positioned above a transparent lens over the right eye and has three thermal imaging settings that show warm and hot objects as white figures. Paul Roberts, a spokesperson for BAE Systems, which owns the patent on the device, told the Lowell Sun daily newspaper last fall, “The Department of Homeland Security has sponsored BAE Systems to update the TOD based on feedback from user evaluations and certification requirements, and this important work is underway.”
|12 The Eagle Attack TIC is Scott Safety’s lightweight thermal imager with a 2½-inch screen. (Photo courtesy of Scott Safety.)|
Topf says his company makes the Nvision series XTP thermal imaging camera that features video and image capture, colorization, and zoom and can survive a 10-foot drop rating. “This is the first camera in the marketplace that combines SCBA tracking and thermal imaging in one device,” Topf says, “where the unit tracks the Echo tracker in our SCBA.”
Boord points out that Draeger has been seeing growth in the TIC market. “This can be attributed to technical advancements and decreases in camera pricing,” he says. “Another contributing factor for market expansion is that more departments are investing in TIC training, helping users to recognize the real value of thermal imagers when it comes to saving lives, property, and firefighter safety.”
Harvey believes that what is happening with military products today will be the roadmap for firefighting thermal imaging. “We have seen the introduction of novel detectors for low-end units, like thermal imaging for iPhones,” Harvey says. “Firefighting innovation is driven by experience elsewhere, and I think in the future we might see a TIC, gas detector, and radio all in one unit. Convergence will have a big impact on firefighting’s future.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.
Drones Take Next Step in Firefighting Tool Evolution
|1 The M100 and Inspire 1 with the Zenmuse XT. (Photos courtesy of FLIR Systems, Inc.)|
|2 The Zenmuse XT TIC.|