While there is no substitute for real world experience, realistic training is the next best thing. After conducting search training using acquired structures and “live smoke”, there were several lessons learned and reinforced as it relates to entering a fire building and conducting a search while using a Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC). The most obvious of these, is that the majority of firefighters have had little to no formal training in the use of a TIC, and therefore, lack a true understanding of its potential, but more importantly, of its limitations.
There is no doubt that thermal imaging has been one of the single biggest advances in fire service technology in the last 15 years. However, we must remember that it is just another tool in the toolbox, and must be used with caution. While conducting searches, we have always learned to stay low in heat and smoke, with most of us being taught “if you can’t see your feet…get down.” We should not abandon fundamental and sound search tactics while being lulled into a false sense of security by a TIC.
Here are some questions and points to ponder. When searching as a crew or team, which member will carry the TIC? Do you use the TIC to scan the entire room or area? What pattern or method do you use? Do you depend on your TIC to guide you in and out? Are you still maintaining your orientation and exit path strategy using “conventional means”? What happens if your TIC suddenly “dies”, can you find your way out? Are you staying low and using all of your tools to your advantage? What type and size imager do you have, and how do you carry it?
Get it out and TRAIN ON IT!! TEST YOUR BATTERIES!!!