Infrared is a form of electromagnetic radiation that humans can’t see but can feel as heat. The hotter an object, the more infrared radiation it gives off. In 1929, Hungarian physicist Kalman Tihanyi invented the first infrared-sensitive camera that could produce thermal images.
Thermal imaging cameras built with FSX technology give firefighters greater edge detail that ordinary TICs. (FLIR)
Thermal imaging technology, in the form of the thermal imaging camera (TIC) first began appearing on fire apparatus in 1990’s. The Seattle Fire Department acquired its first thermal imaging camera in 1997, for a cost of $16,000 (My own fire department, the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire and EMS Department bought its first TIC around the same time for $25,000!).
Fast forward to the present day and TICs had shrunk dramatically in both size and weight, and in cost. For most fire departments, the TIC is no longer a piece of “specialty equipment” with a fire department perhaps only having a couple of TICs that were typically carried in a chief officer’s vehicle. Today, the TIC has taken its rightful place in a firefighter’s “protective gear package” alongside PPE and SCBA with built-in PASS technology.
MORE THAN JUST FOR FIREFIGHTING
As TICs have come to enjoy more widespread availability to firefighters and officers, their use has expanded well beyond the fire scene and TICs are being used in a variety of emergency situations that include, but not limited to, the following:
Situational Awareness. With more firefighters coming off their fire apparatus with a TIC, they can get a complete view of the fire scene through smoke or in total darkness. And that means better situational awareness which is vital for more safe, effective, and efficient emergency operations.
Outdoor ground searches. Searchers can cover more ground more quickly and potentially locate the victim sooner, thereby increasing their survivability.
Wildland fires. Wildland fires continue to grow in both frequency and severity every year, and TICs have proven invaluable for more quickly sizing up a fire (from the ground and aloft). Individual firefighters equipped with a TIC can rapidly and accurately identify hot spots and monitor a fire’s progress. TICs also help firefighters avoid being killed or injured while operating around wildland firefighting apparatus (e.g., dozers or tenders) in smoky conditions.
Liquid Hazardous Materials Release. A TIC can be used to quickly determine the size and magnitude of the spill, how much liquid remains in a container, and a more precise location on the ground and the extent of its spread. A firefighter equipped with a TIC is also better able to determine a more precise location of the product if it’s floating on water.
Motor vehicle crashes. When firefighters respond to MVCs, especially at night or during low-visibility conditions (e.g., falling precipitation or fog) TICs are invaluable for more effective and efficient assessment of the crash scene for spilled fuels or other hazardous materials. TICs also give firefighters a great tool for rapidly searching for unaccounted occupants of vehicles and determining the total number of vehicles and their locations.
TICS ARE NOT JUST FOR GROUND OPERATIONS
Ask any turntable operator of an aerial device flowing an elevated master stream of 1000 gpm on a fire what their greatest concern is and they’re most likely to tell you “Am I getting enough of the wet stuff (water) on the red stuff (the fire)?” Because especially when there’s smoke obscuring their view of the nozzle at the tip of the ladder 80-feet or more above them, they often just don’t know.
Today, small, and lightweight TICs with Bluetooth technology can be mounted on aerial ladders, platforms, and buckets to provide the turntable operator with a high-angle thermal view of rooftops and other elevated structures, helping them see through thick smoke and target the hottest areas more effectively and efficiently. They can also conduct evaluation sweeps of upper-level floors from the outside and quickly identify where the incident commander needs to deploy interior firefighting operations.
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are gaining increased use by fire departments for aerial surveillance. The addition of a TIC only serves to increase a drone’s value and a department’s ROI (return on investment).
With all that going for them, TICs still have limitations, chief among them being situations where the scene temperatures differences are less obvious; it can be a challenge for some TICs to provide firefighters with the clarity needed to quickly identify structural details in their path. That’s where Teledyne FLIR’s Flexible Scene Enhancement (FSX) technology comes in.
“Our exclusive FSX technology is built into all our "KXX-series" [thermal imaging] cameras," said Kenneth Kiel, regional sales manager, public safety solutions at Teledyne FLIR LLC. “This AI [artificial intelligence] technology gives firefighters greater edge detail in the worst of conditions, which allows firefighters to see objects such as doorways, windows, or victims, that may be missed with ordinary TICs.”
FSX TECHNOLOGY EXPLAINED
FSX is an advanced non-linear image processing algorithm that preserves detail for a firefighter engaged in interior structural firefighting, an environment where they frequently encounter a highly dynamic range of temperatures that has an impact on TIC imagery. A TIC with FSX technology extracts greater image details (e.g., edges and corners and other fine points) from the original image, enhances them, then re-integrates them with the original image to create pictures that are easier for the user to see, even in the brutal temperature extremes that firefighters encounter every day.
What makes a TIC with FSX technology so much better? The powerful image processing algorithms behind the FSX technology help firefighters see low-contrast targets even when working in environments with wide temperature ranges.
The result? A firefighter gets an ultra-sharp, finer textured image that brings greater definition to more subtle details, enabling them to recognize people, objects, and pathways more accurately in a structure. And that helps a firefighter to make better decisions more quickly when seconds count!
So, there you have it. A quick overview of the new generation of TICs in Teledyne FLIR line of products that can help your people to do their job – wherever that is and whatever it takes place – more safely, effectively, and efficiently.