How did the fire department find the cat in the furnace duct? No, this isn’t the beginning of a joke. Firefighters, in fact, used a thermal-imaging camera to discover the missing feline. This is just one of many stories I heard about non-fire uses for thermal imagers.
Indeed, with some creative thinking, fire departments have found that the thermal-imaging camera is a multipurpose tool that does more than help firefighters see through smoke-filled rooms. For example, the thermal imager is “an excellent tool during overhaul to find hot spots not readily visible,” according to Anaheim (Calif.) Fire Chief Randy Bruegman.
When thermal imagers were first introduced, not only were they large and cumbersome, they were expensive, with a price tag was close to $25,000. But like most technology over the years, thermal imagers seemingly get smaller and less expensive with each model introduction. And decreases in size and cost made them more accessible to fire departments.
I recently asked several members of FIRE CHIEF’s editorial advisory board how their agencies are using thermal imagers.
- German Township (Ohio) Fire & EMS uses its thermal imagers in various scenarios, according to Chief Tim Holman. “We used ours to help police track down a suspect in a dark building, to locate hot versus cold water lines, levels of fluid in tanks, overheated motors or belts on HVAC systems,” he said. “We also used it to determine where more insulation was needed in our station.”
- David Fulmer, managing partner of Fulmer/Shaw Consulting Group, said his company has used thermal imagers to help the police department look for suspects and possible victims in rollovers. “We’ve also used them for non-emergencies, such as light ballasts,” he said.
- Chief Bill Jenaway said the King of Prussia (Pa.) Fire Department used infrared to help locate a patient missing from a healthcare facility. “We requested a helicopter with thermal-imaging capabilities to search wooded areas from above,” he said. King of Prussia also uses its thermal imagers regularly to detect heat transmission from mulch fires.
- “One unusual use was the temperatures of a kiln on fire and another was an industrial stack fire where we’ve cut the power to it then waited until temperatures reduced to a range consistent to either have the material re-solidify or be able to use regular extinguishing methods,” Wyoming (Ohio) Fire-EMS Chief Robert Rielage answered. “The concern being if water were used, it may introduce an excessive force from steam, rupture the vessel and also ruin the products.”
- Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Fire Rescue used thermal imagers to determine fluid levels of hazmat tanks from a safe distance, according to Chief Mike Duyck. The department also used it to identify building construction and location of structural components with flat commercial roofs, heat of ballast or malfunctioning HVAC units — and for the aforementioned cat in the duct.
To learn other uses for infrared, plan to attend “Expect More from Your Thermal-Imaging Camera,” on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. EST. The one-hour webinar hosted by Dräger will educate firefighters on how today’s thermal-imaging camera technology can help them on the job. It will cover the technology, its limitations and ways to achieve the camera’s full potential.
“Today’s cameras have a much clearer screen and provide firefighters with more valuable information,” said webinar host Chris Cerci, a 19-year veteran of the fire service who currently serves with the McKeesport (Pa.) Fire Department. “[But] to gain the most out of a thermal-imaging camera, it is essential to understand the information that the camera is delivering.”
You never know what your next call will be, so learn more about this amazing technology — and don’t forget to take your thermal imager for the ride.