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Here’s How Firefighters Use Thermal Imaging Cameras

Friday Jan 7th, 2022

To state the obvious: Fighting fires is a dangerous job. But thanks to thermal imaging cameras (TICs), those who run toward and into rather than away from burning buildings can do so more safely. In fact, fire departments across the United States have started investing in new TICs for the safety of firefighters and the people they rush to rescue.

But this type of hardware isn’t necessarily new. First responders of all kinds have used infrared radiation (IR) devices for decades. However, when they first started using TICs, all of the hardware was cumbersome, sometimes adding dozens of extra pounds of gear. That additional weight is significant when you consider most firefighters are already wearing between 40-60 lbs. worth of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Thanks to impressive technological advancements, today's tech is far lighter and more accessible, meaning that every fire department and community stakeholder should consider investing in TICs. To learn more about why TICS are essential, TherCam, a leader in IR technology, explores why every fire department needs access to this technology. We'll also quickly review what a TIC is and where to buy one.

Firefighter using a hose to battle fire

So, What is a Thermal Imaging Camera?

A TIC, also known as a thermographic camera, is a contactless device that detects an object's infrared energy (heat signature). You may also hear people use the term infrared camera, thermal camera, or thermal imager.

These devices create an image by converting infrared radiation into an image that is visible to the human eye through a process known as thermal imaging. From scientists and researchers to waste disposal workers and military personnel, many professionals use thermal cameras. By doing so, they can capture, analyze, and display IR radiation data in a practice called thermography.

How Do Firefighters Use Thermal Imaging Cameras?

With advances in thermal imaging technology, most notably the developments that have led to smaller, lighter-weight, and more affordable devices, firefighters use TICs every day. More specifically, they often use these IR devices to:

Detect Hazardous Material

Fires can ignite nearly anywhere. Be it at a chemical plant or on a highway after a tanker truck overturns, firefighters need to be ready to possibly contend with hazardous materials. TICs help to identify potentially dangerous content levels of enclosed containers and trace spills from a safe distance.

Firefighters can also use TICs to detect leaking gas and vapor clouds. Should there be hazardous chemicals nearby, firefighters can tailor their response to effectively evacuate anyone in the vicinity of the site based on the presence of these hazards.

Fighting Wildfires

TICs are helpful in wildfires to spot other firefighters and people who may be trapped by surrounding flames. They also provide better situational awareness and help identify the shifting paths of a fire and underground hot spots. Firefighters can use them on the ground or from an aircraft or drone.

Thermal Camera attached to drone

Find Missing People

Firefighters don’t just fight fires; they are often responding to emergencies when fire isn’t present or isn’t the only threat. For instance, sometimes they're called in when a person or animal is missing. In this case, firefighters can use TICs to detect individuals who may be injured or unconscious. This ability is especially useful in wooded areas, fields, or building rubble. Further, TICs are usable in extreme conditions, making them an essential tool for search and rescue missions occurring in darkness, fogginess, and severe temperatures.

Identify Trapped and Incapacitated Victims

TICs allow firefighters to see through dense smoke. When they're navigating a structure fire, this ability is mission-critical to finding trapped or incapacitated victims. With IR technology, the heat signature from body heat versus combustion gives a person a near-perfect outline on the display.

Locate Hot Spots

Firefighters have a trained eye when it comes to predicting how a fire will spread, but spotting hotspots hidden behind walls, above ceilings, and under floors can be sometimes impossible. Using a TIC, firefighters can identify the severity of a fire that’s currently isolated and prioritize and plan out the areas of the fire that need to be put out first.

What’s more, it also ensures a fire is entirely extinguished. During the “overhaul” stage, firefighters use TICs to identify any remaining sources of heat that may cause the fire to reignite.

TICs also are helping in identifying electrical hotspots responsible for more than one in ten house fires. Typically in this situation, a firefighter can locate the circuit board, fuse box, or wall outlet causing the threat.

A firefighter smiling.

Get Equipped

When fighting fires and searching for missing people, TICs play a critical role in helping to save lives. These IR devices allow firefighters to see through smoke, detect hazardous materials, find missing people and incapacitated victims, and identify hot spots all more easily.

TICs protect both victims and firefighting teams by providing better situational awareness.

If you’re looking for affordable, reliable, rugged TICs, visit TherCam, a leader in IR technology. We have a wide selection of handheld and mountable TICs to help you navigate the most extreme conditions. Equip your team of first responders (EMS, police, and fire) with high-performance cameras they can depend on.