Thermal Imaging Makers Ponder New NFPA Standard

The ability to send information and pictures outside an incident via a radio link is a new feature of the Argus 4 HR320.
The ability to send information and pictures outside an incident via a radio link is a new feature of the Argus 4 HR320.
The K85 from ISG Infrasys weighs less than three pounds and is designed to be clipped to turnout gear with a retractable lanyard.
The K85 from ISG Infrasys weighs less than three pounds and is designed to be clipped to turnout gear with a retractable lanyard.
The ISI nVision XT and XTP integrate with the ISI EchoSeeker firefighter locator.
The ISI nVision XT and XTP integrate with the ISI EchoSeeker firefighter locator.

Manufacturers’ reactions to the new National Fire Protection Association standard for thermal imagers ranged from indifferent to indignant at April’s Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis.

NFPA 1801, released to the public in February, is aimed at creating common features in all thermal imaging cameras (TIC), ranging from buttons to displays to technical capabilities. The idea is that a firefighter will be able to pick up any thermal imager from any department, and immediately know how to use it.

The standard requires all thermal imagers to have power buttons that are green and can be switched on by a gloved hand. Other minimum features include grayscale imagery with white-hot polarity, power source status, an internal electronics overheat indicator and an “on” indicator. 

In “basic” operations, all thermal imagers must use the same colorization modes: transparent before imaging begins, yellow at the low end of the thermal range, orange at the middle end and red at the high end. They are also required to have a viewing area that consists of three vertical sections showing specific information on alarm indicators, operation indicators and temperature sensing indicators. Thermal imagers equipped with spot temperature measurements must have a zone indicator to give firefighters an approximate idea of the location where the temperature is being reported.

Accessories, such as power sources, tracking devices or video recorders, must not interfere with the thermal imaging camera’s operation. This particular aspect of the standard hits close to home for a few TIC manufacturers who have combined their cameras with locator technology.

Thermal Imaging Camera Project Manager Jason Patterson of Monroe, N.C.-based Scott, said he wasn’t surprised at the new NFPA standard and has no plans to make major changes in Scott’s current line. 

At the FDIC trade show, Patterson was showing his company’s new Eagle Imager TIC Locator, which combines Scott’s thermal imaging technology with its Pak-Tracker firefighter tracking system. It includes a 1,100-degree dynamic range, a four-hour thermal video recorder, a four-inch LCD display and three display modes (temperature colorization, overhaul mode for finding hot spots and standard gray scale). Rescuers can use multiple TIC Locators to find a downed firefighter who is wearing a Pak-Tracker device on an airpack. 

Lawrenceville, Ga.-based ISI also showed a combination thermal imager/firefighter tracking device. Called the nVision series, it combines a full-featured thermal imaging camera with ISI’s EchoSeeker ultrasonic tracking system. The nVision XT and XTP weigh less than four pounds, are designed to survive a 10-foot drop and include flame retardant straps and outer shells. The difference between the two models is resolution, with the XTP offering 320×240 dpi and the XT offering 160×120 dpi. 

ISI Product and Marketing Manager Mark Williamson said the EchoSeeker easily slides onto the nVision and features one-button operation. As for the new NFPA standard, he is fairly relaxed about it. “We don’t think we’ll have to make major changes at all,” he said. “We think we meet most of [the requirements].” 

Meeting The Standard

Over at the MSA booth, Product Manager Shane Bray said the company is not offering anything new in its thermal imaging product line this year, choosing to stand by its EV5000 line. “The standard has hit, and we are scrambling to put some new products together,” Bray said. “There isn’t anything out there that meets the new standard, and manufacturers will have to go back and tweak their existing platforms or come up with something new.”  

Bray said companies making smaller cameras will have a harder time meeting the standard. “The hardest test will be the durability standard,” he said. “They are taking the camera and putting it through a big tumble device. There’s a whole series of tests where they heat the camera up, cool it down, put it in water, and at the end of it, it still has to work.” 

As for those smaller cameras, Cynthiana, Ky.-based Bullard returned to FDIC this year with its one-and-a-half pound Eclipse thermal imager, which made a big stir at last year’s show. Following Bullard’s lead, a few other companies presented their own smaller personal thermal imagers.

ISG Infrasys, based in Lawrenceville, Ga., had the K85, weighing less than three pounds and designed to be clipped to turnout gear with a retractable lanyard. Pat Morris, vice president of sales and service for ISG Infrasys, said the K85 is easily upgraded as technology changes, as are all the company’s products.

“We pride ourselves on being upgradable, so if you bought a K80 model in 2002, you can send it in for an upgrade [to the K85],” Morris said. “We can do that because we have our own engineers on staff.” As for the requirements of the new NFPA standard, Morris said, “No one is happy about them, and we don’t know what they mean for us.” 

Smaller And Simpler

Draeger is another company that exhibited a smaller, simpler camera, the UCF Basic, at FDIC. Regional Director Paul House said it has the same high-quality picture as Draeger’s other thermal imagers, but the buttons and other feature operations are simplified. “You can get two for almost the same price as one,” House said. He also said Draeger expects to start working on some NFPA compliant products later this year.

The ability to send information and pictures outside an incident via a radio link is a new feature in the Argus 4 HR320 this year. Tom Olson, sales manager at Tarrytown, N.Y.-based e2v, the parent company of Argus, said it works through a special transmitter battery pack that replaces the standard battery pack. The camera also has a new core, he said, that allows it to offer high-resolution video at the price of a standard resolution camera. 

The NFPA standard was on his mind too, as he complained the Argus product line is being penalized for being too good. “Our camera is over the top,” he said. “We don’t comply. We will have to dumb our camera down to fit inside the box, which we are not happy about.”

But at the same time Olson said it shouldn’t take much to change his company’s products, claiming they are as close as any to meeting the standard without major modifications.

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