I recently had a conversation with a fire chief about how his department defines using a thermal imaging camera (TIC). This chief is very fortunate that his department owns a TIC for every firefighter.
To ensure that his firefighters would never be without a TIC on a fire call, he added the use of a TIC to his department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). The SOP requires that his firefighters grab their TIC when they exit the apparatus. This conversation made me think about the importance of including the use of a TIC in your department’s SOPs. The TIC is an often-overlooked tool when documenting procedures for firefighters to follow.
Not many fire departments are fortunate enough to have a TIC assigned to every firefighter. This is certainly not the norm in the fire service, although it’s a dream many fire departments strive to achieve. Let’s look at the most common deployment models currently in use in the fire service for thermal imaging.
- Your fire department doesn’t own a TIC. If this is your department, then I’m sure the reason you don’t own a TIC is budgetary. I recommend you work with your town or city council to raise funds to purchase a TIC. Or, another option to consider is purchasing a refurbished TIC, which is less expensive but a viable solution.
- Your fire department owns only one TIC. Having one TIC is better than not having a TIC at all. If this is you, you are most likely a small volunteer department with budget constraints and are probably using the TIC for overhaul and for emergency search and rescue calls.
- Your fire department owns one TIC per station. This means that most likely a TIC is present on all fire calls. Having a TIC per station is certainly better than the previous two models; however, there may be times when the first apparatus to arrive is not the one equipped with the TIC. This can delay search and rescue efforts or lose the benefits the TIC offers when looking for victims trapped in the fire.
- Your fire department owns one TIC per apparatus. This is a powerful use of thermal imaging technology. These departments have made a serious commitment to using thermal imaging technology and value its benefits. This model ensures that the TIC is always on the first apparatus to arrive on the fire scene. In this deployment model, the TIC is intended to be used during primary search and all other fire operations. There is a significant investment in this model.
- Your fire department owns one TIC per firefighter (riding position). This is where we all want to be – every firefighter clipping on a TIC to turnout gear for every call, just like every firefighter strapping on SCBA for every call. Not many departments have adopted this deployment model because it is just too costly. What if, however, this deployment model became the norm for fire departments across the nation? This means that not only would we have the technology for search and rescue at our fingertips, but we would also be combating the issue of firefighter disorientation.
|1 Owning one or more TICs means knowing who is responsible for the TIC when responding to a call. (Photo courtesy of Bullard.)|
Whichever model you have will certainly influence how your firefighters use and implement thermal imaging when responding to fire calls. We know the use of a TIC helps to save lives because it lets firefighters see what they once couldn’t see. Regardless of the size of your department, a TIC is a tool that needs to be in the hands of firefighters. Manufacturers have made it more affordable to purchase a TIC. For those departments that don’t have a TIC, get one. For those departments that do have a TIC, get more. If you have the funds to expand your TIC arsenal, then you advance in the deployment models outlined in this column.
Owning just one TIC means having a deployment strategy in place is necessary. It doesn’t matter if you own one or 20, you must know who is responsible for that TIC when entering a structure fire. Be sure you can answer these questions: Is your TIC accessible to your firefighters? Where is your TIC? How did you decide where you would store your TIC?
Always know where your TIC is stored, who’s taking it off the truck, and what role the TIC plays in fighting fires. Owning a TIC is a significant investment. It is up to you to be sure that you are using this investment on every fire call. There is no greater benefit than saving a life!
Carl Nix is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.