NFPA committee members are working to regulate TIC

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) committee members are working on creating a standard to regulate thermal imaging cameras (TIC).

The standard, to be dubbed NFPA 18901, is scheduled for implementation in 2010. It will be the first for TICs and is aimed at providing minimum requirements.

 “What we are looking for is some standardization and some method to keep the manufacturers honest,” said Robert Athanas, a nationally recognized expert on thermal imagers who also serves on the NFPA’s committee for electronic safety equipment and is chairman of  the NFPA’s thermal imaging task force.

Striving For Commonality

 “What we are trying to do is bring thermal imagers up to a certain point where there’s some standardization and some commonality,” Athanas said.

Committee members working on the 1801 thermal imaging standard have met about 18 times and developed a 64-page proposal for standards regulating TICs.

It’s available for review on the NFPA’s Web site. Public comments and suggested proposals can be submitted until 5 p.m. on Jan. 25. Committee members will review the submissions at a meeting in San Diego in February and accept or reject the proposals.

According to the draft document, the scope of the standard “shall specify the design, performance, testing and certification requirements for thermal imagers used by fire service personnel during emergency incident operations.”

One of the objectives Athanas hopes to achieve with the standard is to make thermal imagers durable so firefighters will think of them as tools and not as instruments to be coddled.

TICs now hang from lanyards on turnout coats and see some tough use during firefighting operations, he said.

Brad Harvey, thermal imaging product manager at Bullard, a maker of TICs based in Cynthiana, Ky., agrees that a standard is necessary to a point. He has no problem with a standard that dictates durability from impact and water, as well as heat and temperature. Those make sense, he said, but that’s where the standard should end. He said he’s concerned the committee will try to dictate how the cameras should work and thereby thwart technological advancements.

“How can you hope to govern a technology that evolves and changes every 18 to 24 months with a standard that’s reviewed every five years,” Harvey said. He pointed out that thermal imaging in the fire service is only 10 years old.

Technological Changes

“We might come up with some brand new technology that will shatter the price barrier and make it affordable so that every firefighter can have one. That’s sort of the Holy Grail of thermal imaging,” he said. “I can’t tell you what that technology is because we don’t know.”

Athanas said he has no intention of thwarting technology and, if any manufacturer comes up with a new design he said, “bring it forward and we’ll look at it.” The cycle doesn’t have to be limited to the five-year review period, he said.

One goal Athanas hopes to achieve with the standard is the consistency of camera operations and symbols.

Basic Safety Mode

“Why can’t we have just one color button to turn on every camera,” Athanas asked, noting that the proposed standard calls for a green “on” button. During research for the standard, Athanas counted 11 different colors used for on switches.

Athanas has worked with virtually every camera made today, and he reported that each one operates differently and uses different symbols and icons to convey the same information – sometimes from model to model within the same manufacturer’s offerings.

He’s seeking a basic default or safety mode on every camera so every firefighter knows how to use the device with some rudimentary training.

“We have to keep in mind, we’re trying to protect the firefighter, not hinder him,” Athanas said. “I really don’t want to tell manufacturers how to make cameras, but if they really had my best interest in mind, why are they making it so difficult for me to use them?”

The proposed standard document can be downloaded from the association’s Web site, A comment form is available in the front of the document. Information on the standards-making process is available at 617-984-7249. Technical assistance with the proposed standard is available by calling the NFPA at 617-770-3000.

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