Imagers Get Smaller And Lighter With New Features

The Eclipse from Bullard is small and light enough to hang off a firefighter's gear like a flashlight.
The Eclipse from Bullard is small and light enough to hang off a firefighter’s gear like a flashlight.
The ISI EchoSeeker is a tracking device that attaches to a thermal imaging camera.
The ISI EchoSeeker is a tracking device that attaches to a thermal imaging camera. It can locate downed firefighters wearing an EchoTracer beacon or find exits where an EchoTracer beacon has been placed.
The Argus video battery pack can record up to eight hours of video from its thermal imaging camera.
The Argus video battery pack can record up to eight hours of video from its thermal imaging camera.
Dräger's UCF 3200 weighs less than three pounds with the handle removed, thanks in part to a lightweight lithium-ion battery.
Dräger’s UCF 3200 weighs less than three pounds with the handle removed, thanks in part to a lightweight lithium-ion battery.

Makers of thermal imaging cameras exhibited new products that were smaller, lighter and feature-rich at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis this year.

More than 100 firefighters died in the United States in 2008, and, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, almost 20 percent of those deaths were a result of getting lost, trapped or caught in a fire. Thermal imagers often get left behind on the rig due to inconvenient, bulky designs. So manufacturers have been striving to get more thermal imagers into the hands of more firefighters.

E.D. Bullard Company of Cynthiana, Ky., created a stir at FDIC this year with its new Eclipse thermal imager. Weighing in at only one-and-a-half pounds and fitting in the palm of a large hand, it’s designed for all firefighters on duty to carry in their gear.

“You just literally clip it to yourself and go,” said Bullard Product Manager Brad Harvey. “If you find you need it, it’s there. You don’t have to send anyone back to the truck to get it.”

He called the Eclipse, at $4,495, unique. “There’s nothing in this price range,” he said. “It’s the first in every aspect. It’s the smallest, it’s the lightest and we would challenge that it’s by far the most durable.”

Harvey said the Eclipse is nearly the same size and weight as the flashlights that firefighters wear on their gear, and is completely “firefighter-proof,” able to withstand repeated drops from six feet without damage. At the same time, he said the Eclipse provides all the functionality of a limited-feature thermal imaging camera, with one button operation, quality imagery and a 1,000 degree temperature range.

Bullard President and CEO Richard Miller envisioned the Eclipse as working in support of, not instead of, larger and more advanced imagers. “The officer still carries the big imager, but the other members of the crew will now have the ability to see one another as well, and be able to get out of the structure,” Miller said. He said it has a simple feature set in order to keep it smaller and easier to use, but still includes a truck-mount and desk-top charger for convenience. The Eclipse works for three hours on one charge.

At their Eclipse kick-off event, Bullard officials also took the opportunity to present a free Eclipse to Trotwood, Ohio firefighter/paramedic Sean Lehrter, a 15-year veteran of Trotwood’s Fire and Rescue Department who spoke to the audience about a fire a few years back in which two children died. He said his crew passed the children numerous times during their search of the burning house and he wished he could have had an Eclipse that day.

“There is no doubt in my mind it would have made a difference,” Lehrter said. “I know we are cash-strapped like everyone else is, but these are worth it.”

Scott’s Eagle Imager 320

Scott Health & Safety of Monroe, N.C., presented its latest entry in the thermal imaging field, the Eagle Imager 320. At around three-and-a-half pounds, it includes an Overhaul Mode, which allows firefighters to more easily find warm spots after a fire is out. Regional Manager Patrick Pflederer said it also features Temperature Awareness Colorization (TAC). “TAC mode uses colors to identify temperatures in certain ranges,” Pflederer said. “Over 200 degrees is yellow, over 500 degrees is orange, and over 800 degrees is red. Everything under 200 degrees is in sharp grey-scale.”

The Eagle Imager 320 also includes a max-temp indicator in all operating modes. “MaxTemp identifies the temperature of the hottest object in the camera’s viewfinder,” Pflederer said. He said the camera also includes a feature that can help firefighters distinguish between temperatures and objects using zoom magnification; a pivoting handle that includes stand, crawl and hands-free positions; and an optional wireless transmitter. Like its predecessor, the Eagle Imager 160, the Eagle Imager 320 includes a nickel-hydride battery with more than four hours of run-time.

Also at FDIC, Argus, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based E2V Technologies, showcased a thermal imaging camera with a twist. The camera, which should be available later this summer, records up to eight hours of video. Regional Sales Manager Joel Margot said that’s longer recording time than any competitor. Its applicability for training and incident debriefing, he said, is unmatched. “You connect it up to the PC with a USB adaptor, it comes up on QuickTime, and it’s that easy,” he said. “You can even store the video and download it onto a CD.”

Margot said the actual run time for the camera is two hours before it needs to recharge. But it will store the video already shot throughout the charging process. It weighs 3.3 pounds, including the battery and removable handle. Margot said the model shown at FDIC is ready to go, but the software for easy downloading won’t be ready until later this summer.

Germany-based Dräger showed the latest in its UCF line, the UCF 3200. Regional Sales Manager Andy Dicken said it weighs less than three pounds, based in part on lithium-ion battery technology. “With LI, you don’t have to worry about the battery maintenance of nickel-hydride,” he said. “So it doesn’t need any kind of refreshing. It’s also a lighter-weight battery.”

Targeting Temperatures

Dicken said the UCF 3200 is extremely robust, and can be dropped up to three times from a height of two meters without any structural damage.

He also said the camera has the ability to “dial in” on a temperature by setting a target temperature on the camera. “Anything over that temperature is highlighted in yellow,” he said. “We have the only thermal imaging camera that gives you the ability to dial a temperature in.”

MSA of Pittsburgh, Pa., makes the Evolution 5800 thermal imaging camera, which boasts a lightweight lithium-ion battery with over two hours of runtime. It also offers color pixilation in high and low sense modes.

International Safety Instruments of Lawrenceville, Ga., combined its thermal imaging technology with a firefighter-tracking device to create a camera with multiple safety features. If the personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm on an air pack goes on full alert, ISI Product Manager Mark Williamson said, “We can track that from the camera. It uses ultrasound technology to track where the sound is coming from, as well as help you to see.”

He said the product, called ISI EchoSeeker, works in conjunction with the ISI EchoTracer, a beacon that fits onto the company’s SCBA units. Fire departments can also purchase remote beacons that hang from doors, so firefighters can use their thermal imagers to find exits. Williamson said the component that fits onto the camera can be retrofitted to the company’s older cameras.

In fall of 2009, the National Fire Protection Agency is expected to release standards for thermal imagers. Camera manufacturers at FDIC did not appear overly concerned about the proposed standards, which are expected to include requirements for third party testing, uniform operation and ruggedness.

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