C a r l N i x I recently returned from Asia where I was training firefighters on the use of thermal imaging camera (TIC) technology. As I boarded the plane for my flight home, I realized how similar firefighters are from one continent to another. We are all brothers and sisters and face many of the same challenges when
responding to fire calls. Many of the training tips that
I’ve highlighted in this column I shared with these
firefighters during my trip. As we welcome in a new
year, I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the
training tips and guidelines I’ve shared during the year
that resonate with firefighters across all continents.
The number of nonfire calls a department receives
each month continues to outnumber the fire-related
calls. This doesn’t mean that your TIC shouldn’t be
with you on a nonfire call. Using a TIC for everyday
nonfire emergency incidents is a smart use of this
technology. Let’s look at a few tips for using a TIC on
Motor vehicle accidents. When arriving on the
scene, it’s critical to determine how many people were
in the vehicle prior to the accident to account for all
parties. Use your TIC to check the automobile seats for
hot spots to determine how many people were in the
car. A TIC cannot see through glass, so be sure to open
or remove the door or window of the vehicle before
you scan. Don’t scan just one seat but multiple seats
at the same time for comparative purposes, since your
TIC will show residual heat. What you’re looking for is
contrasting heat signatures.
Search and rescue. How many times has your local
police department called you for help with locating
a missing person? Maybe it’s an elderly woman who
has wandered away from her home or a child who has
gotten lost in the woods. Use the TIC to pick up heat
spots that can help guide you to a missing person. It
often cuts minutes off a search that can mean the difference between life and death.
Hazmat. Even if you don’t have a trained hazmat
team, you surely have responded to hazmat calls such
as an overturned vehicle or tanker truck, a chemical
emergency, or a meth lab fire. Using a TIC helps you
see what the naked eye cannot see: tracing a spill on the
roadway in a rain storm, seeing the gases of a container
at a safe distance, or seeing the content level of an
enclosed container at a safe distance.
Your number of fire calls may be down, but you need
to be ready with the proper training, knowledge, and
tools. Here are a few TIC guidelines when responding
to a structural fire.
Three-pass scan. Scan a room with your TIC in a
smoke-filled structure using a three-pass technique. The
first pass is across the ceiling, looking for heat accumulation, potential vent points, and structural integrity. The
second pass is across the middle of the room, looking
at the physical layout and its contents as well as the
location of any secondary egress points. The third pass
is across the floor looking for collapsed victims and any
special hazards. All three scans take less than 10 seconds
but are important to maintaining proper orientation
with your TIC.
Overhaul. Use a TIC during overhaul to help determine how far a fire has traveled and to find hot spots.
The TIC can detect the smallest temperature differences
that can indicate a smoldering fire. Identifying possible
rekindles can help lessen property loss and time at the
scene. Using a TIC to properly overhaul ensures that the
fire is completely out and there is no threat of reignition.
Flashover. Using a TIC during preflashover situations
can help you determine warning signs that you would not
otherwise see. A TIC will never help you if you are caught
in a flashover. You don’t have enough time to look at
your TIC, process what’s on the screen, and try to escape
a flashover. It is estimated that you have maybe two or
three seconds max to get out of a flashover situation; even
if you had a few more seconds, looking at your TIC will
only show you what you already know is happening.
Fire attack. The TIC can show thermal layers, a safe
path for advancement, alternative exits, and the location
of the heaviest fire. Using a TIC can help you suppress
a fire quickly, efficiently, and safely. A TIC should arrive
with the first unit on the scene; if it is on the third or
fourth unit, it may be too late for the TIC to help in the
fire attack. It’s also critical that the TIC be assigned to a
firefighter to ensure it comes off the apparatus.
Wishing you a joyous holiday and a safe new year!
Carl Nix is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an
adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal
imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree
in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.
We Are All Brothers and Sisters
A recap of training tips for the TIC