By Alan M. Petrillo
Thermal imaging cameras (TICs) have evolved into required equipment for firefighters.
With improvements in technology, they have gotten smaller, easier to use, and even less costly in many cases. Recent developments have seen TICs integrated into self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), leaving a firefighter’s hands free for other tasks.
David Frye, product manager for thermal imaging at Bullard, points out that its newest lines of TICs are the NXT and the QXT models, both introduced late in 2016. “These represent our first venture for a TIC with an internal battery that wirelessly charges,” Frye says. “The units also have a greater battery run time than other models—about eight hours without video recording going. The TICs have an internal coil, and there’s a coil in the charger. When you put them together, they charge wirelessly. It takes about 2½ hours to give the TIC a full charge.”
Frye notes that the NXT is designed to meet National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1801, Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service, while the QXT is designed “for fire departments that don’t want all the bells and whistles required by the standard. In the QXT we have more flexibility in the buttons used to activate features on the thermal imaging camera.” Other models Bullard makes are the Eclipse and the LDX, which fit in the palm of a hand. “We wanted them as compact as possible, and they have D-rings so the TICs can be hooked to SCBA harnesses or to retractable straps.”
3M Scott Safety
John Graves, global product manager of thermal imaging solutions for 3M Scott Safety, says that his company developed Scott Sight, a system that combines a TIC with a display in the lower right area of its SCBA face piece. “A firefighter doesn’t have the need for reaching down and lifting a camera up,” Graves points out. “Firefighters can have both hands free for effective communication, victim extrication, fire suppression, and carrying tools.”
Graves says the 8½-ounce Scott Sight fits any AV-3000 HT face piece; has an adjustable display; has an in-mask display (IMD) instantaneous on, simultaneous power off for the IMD and the TIC; has a standby mode; and has a four-hour minimum battery life powered by AAA batteries. Scott Sight also has a mobile app that allows customization of the system’s various features.
3M Scott Safety also offers handheld TICs that it offers via its purchase of ISG in 2014, Graves notes. “Our most popular handheld TIC is the X380, an NFPA 1801-compliant model, which has 384 × 288 pixel resolution, along with hot spot and cold spot tracker features,” he says. “We also have the X190 TIC at 192 × 144 pixels that offers a high dynamic range and tactical color, with single-button on/off operation.”
Avon Protection (Argus Thermal Imaging)
Richard Tweddle, product manager for Argus Thermal Imaging, says Argus developed the first handheld TIC for firefighting 35 years ago. “We’ve not stopped innovating since,” Tweddle says. “Our flagship Mi-TIC S is designed for the most extreme interior firefighting environments with its 2,000°F dynamic range and a large LCD. The built-in laser pointer, electronic compass, and heat seeker hottest spot identifier make this model our most advanced imager to date.”
Tweddle notes that Argus’s Mi-TIC 320 is a high-end TIC with a 2,000°F dynamic range and heat seeker hottest spot tracker designed for users who want a small, light, compliant TIC. He adds that the Mi-TIC E and Mi-TIC E L models “offer simple, affordable solutions for day-to-day fire scenarios.” The Mi-TIC E and E L are available in either one- or three-button configurations and have a 1,400°F dynamic range.
Jason Traynor, global product business director of respiratory protection and fire helmets for MSA, says that MSA has had a line of TICs for a number of years and that the Evolution 6000 handheld TIC is its latest. It displays a black and white scene on a 3½-inch (diagonal) LCD; has a dual-handle design; has a high-impact, heat-resistant housing; and is compliant with NFPA 1801.
“Then we started to look at how we could integrate a TIC into our G1 SCBA platform without changing the G1 hardware, Traynor says. “We were seeking a solution that, for a relatively minor cost, would give on-demand thermal imaging integrated into the G1 SCBA system,” which the company introduced in 2016.
Traynor says MSA wanted to avoid complexity in its SCBA face piece, so it integrated the TIC into the G1’s control module. The TIC includes an auto-on feature that activates the camera once the SCBA is pressurized and is driven by the G1’s single integrated power source, which eliminates the need for additional batteries. The TIC uses the G1’s full-color display control module.
Tim LeBeau, vice president at Seek Thermal, says the Reveal FirePRO is his company’s newest high-resolution handheld TIC. “The Reveal FirePRO features a high-performance 320 × 240 pixel thermal sensor, durable IP67 rating, intuitive software, and a wide 32-degree field of view,” LeBeau points out. “This is ideal for locating victims, personal navigation, and identifying hazards in seconds. When you need it, it’s powerful 300-lumen LED flashlight is available at the touch of a button.”
LeBeau adds that the Reveal FirePRO is supplied with a rechargeable battery that gives up to four hours of run time and has a variety of color filters and measurement tools “that allow firefighters to enhance their vision and situational awareness to make critical decisions even faster.”
ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist, the author of three novels and five nonfiction books, and 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.