By now, we are all aware that thermal imagers (TIs) save lives. The TI tool improves efficiency on the fireground and enhances firefighter safety.
Helping firefighters see through thick smoke reduces search times for trapped victims and increases the odds of lives being saved. Simply put, a TI lets firefighters search faster, assess an interior fire flow path quickly and accurately, and safely maneuver through a smoke-filled environment.
Many fire departments have one TI, which is better than not having any at all. I’m seeing a trend, however, beginning to take shape in the fire service of deploying a second TI and sometimes even more. I have seen several fire departments providing a TI for the company officer and a second one for the crew members. So, there is one TI in the front of the apparatus and another in the back of the cab for the crew. This practice is becoming more and more common with truck companies that use a split crew deployment of their staffing. Each part of the crew—whether conducting vent-enter-search, roof, outside vent, or other duties—has the additional capability the TI brings in the hands of a trained firefighter.
Let’s take this thought process a step further. The best situation for a firefighting crew is to deploy four TIs on each apparatus. This is the first step toward a deployment plan of one TI for each firefighter operating in the interior of the structure. Deploying four TIs speeds up the entire crew and increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the team. Increased team efficiency and accountability are key benefits, as is the advantage of having more eyes on the fire. The TI’s ability to portray fire progression, display the cooling effects of water or foam, and signal extreme heat buildup enables firefighters to react in the moment to limit property loss, conserve water or foam supplies, and potentially evacuate before conditions become unsafe. These are all reasons to increase your TI fleet.
Having a TI on the apparatus is one thing, but having a firefighter grab the TI before entering a burning structure is another. In past columns, I have written about how critical it is for firefighters to grab the TI off the truck. When you pull up to a structure fire, the adrenaline is flowing, and it’s easy to forget to grab the TI, as you are in a hurry to exit the apparatus. Then, when the situation is critical, someone realizes that the TI is still on the truck. This is a critical point that I don’t mind writing about often because having the TI with you saves lives. The TI is a critical component of a crew’s tool kit. Bringing TIs in on a call should be as second nature as putting on a self-contained breathing apparatus when entering a burning structure. Deploying a TI should be part of your fire department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Let’s look at a training example where the use of multiple TIs would have aided the crew in extricating an entangled firefighter more quickly. Here was the assignment: A rapid intervention team (RIT) was conducting a training exercise with a fire department. The team’s assignment was to locate and disentangle a firefighter from a large pile of debris, provide immediate life support functions, and get the firefighter to the building exterior. This training was conducted under live-fire conditions with near-zero visibility. The department used the digital video recorder (DVR) on the TI to videotape the session to aid in feedback following the training.
1 Through the lens of a TI, a firefighter is entangled in wiring and 2 is extracted down a stairwell. (Photos courtesy of Bullard.)
The team struggled with the disentanglement of the firefighter in zero-visibility conditions. During the debrief, it became clear that if one member of the RIT equipped with a TI had been assigned to monitor the situation and provide instruction to the team about specific actions required to extricate the firefighter and execute the removal process, the task could have been done in a shorter time. The RIT can only advance as fast as its slowest team member, which is an argument for why deploying multiple TIs is effective and efficient.
All fire departments—whether career, volunteer, combination, or industrial—can benefit from deploying multiple TIs. Having additional TIs on your apparatus as well as SOPs for deploying them is critical to firefighter safety. The efficiency that the TI brings to a department can be magnified in situations where staffing is not optimal. The price of TIs has been dropping over the past few years, and TIs are more affordable than ever. Fire departments can more easily afford these valuable life-saving tools and embrace the use of multiple TIs.
Manfred Kihn is a 19-year veteran of the fire service, having served as an ambulance officer, emergency services specialist, firefighter, captain, and fire chief. He has been a member of Bullard’s Emergency Responder team since 2005 and is the company’s fire training specialist for thermal imaging technology. He is certified through the Law Enforcement Thermographers’ Association (LETA) as a thermal imaging instructor and is a recipient of the Ontario Medal for Firefighters Bravery. If you have questions about thermal imaging, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.