Section III-12

Thermal Imaging Camera

Purpose:  To establish guidelines to assist on-scene personnel with the ability to identify the strategic and tactical approach for the deployment of the Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) and the effective use of the tool as an aid in fire, search and rescue, and many other uses.

Scope:   These guidelines apply to all Three Star Fire Department personnel while conducting fire suppression, search and rescue operations, or any other time the TIC is used during emergency situations.

The TIC used by the Three Star Fire Department is the Bullard T3Max (T3).  The T3Max enables firefighters to optimize the fire scene with the touch of a button.  This feature is ideal for pinpointing hot spots during overhaul, searching for overheated electrical equipment, clarifying objects in a scene, or conducting search and rescue operations.  The TIC has features that enable the firefighter to see heat levels by color; hot is white, and cold is black.  Starting at 500°F, heated objects are tinted yellow and gradually transition to solid red as heat levels rise.  The temperature indicator measures surface temperature as indicated by the green “cross-hairs.”  The TIC runs off of one (1) rechargeable NiMH battery with a combined life of 2 ½ hours fully charged.

Only personnel trained in the use and limitations of the TIC shall use the device at actual incidents.  It shall be the responsibility of the Lieutenant or Acting Officer to use the TIC and to ensure that it is properly returned to the charger unit following use.  

Application of TIC Technology

The benefits of thermal imaging technology impact just about every aspect of firefighting.  Thermal imaging is not, however, a technology designed to replace current fire fighting tactics.  Rather, the TIC is a tool that allows firefighters to be more effective and make better decisions.  It allows the user to see through dense smoke and darkness by detecting and displaying the relative temperatures of objects, IT DOES NOT DISPLAY or AMPLIFY LIGHT.  Some of the many uses for the TIC include:

·        Search and Rescue

·        Scene Assessment

·        Locating the main body of fire

·        Checking for fire extension and locating hot spots

·        Identifying potential flashover situations

·        Determining ventilation and entry points

·        Hazmat scene assessment

·        Duct fires to determine the location of the fire

·        Overheated motors or fluorescent light ballasts

·        When dealing with a container, such as a 55 gallon drum, the TIC can show the amount of liquid in the drum by detecting the frost line

·        When responding at night to a person in the water, although it will not penetrate the water, it will detect any part of a person above water

·        Detecting hot spots on large roof areas

The TIC can only measure and react to gradient changes in surface heat - it cannot see through glass, water, or behind objects such as furniture or wallboard.  Firefighters need to be aware that latent heat can be reflected by glass and other shiny surfaces, causing false heat signatures.  The TIC can be best utilized in a structure fire by the Lieutenant or Acting Officer looking over the shoulders of their crew to scan the surroundings for victims, extreme heat buildup, and the seat of the fire.  Hot spots detected by the TIC may be surface heat considerably higher in temperature then the surroundings area, which may appear to be fire behind a wall or panel.

Extremely hot fires may cause the TIC’s iris to close down fully to prevent overload of the image sensor.  This is normal and the unit will not sustain damage.  By moving the TIC such that the fire is "out of the picture" or occupying as little of the picture as possible, the iris will re-open to enable the image to be restarted.

Deployment Guidelines

Each person will be properly trained and certified prior to the use of the TIC.  The actual operations of the TIC will be covered on CD and during training evolutions.

The TIC may provide valuable information during size-up, which can assist the Incident Commander in determining the strategy and formulating the incident action plan.  Early identification of tactical priorities/needs can prove beneficial in placing initial and subsequent attack lines. When a Company Officer or Incident Commander arrives on the scene, one of the first challenges is to identify the location of the fire.  A TIC can save a great deal of time by helping to pinpoint a concentration of heat within a particular area of the building.  An Incident Commander, armed with this knowledge, can better direct firefighters regarding their point of entry and plan of attack so as to optimize their resources.

Even before firefighters enter a burning structure, the Incident Commander or Company Officer can accomplish a great deal from the exterior with the aid of thermal imaging technology.  Some factors that can be assessed from the outside include finding the seat of the fire, observing changing or spreading conditions, identifying critical building construction features and identifying conditions that could threaten structural integrity. 

The early and rapid deployment of the TIC, while operating in an offensive strategy, may enhance the visibility in a visibly diminished atmosphere, thus increasing firefighter safety and survival, as well as improving the survival potential of our customers.

The TIC can also be deployed while operating in a defensive strategy.  It can provide the Incident Commander or Company Officer with valuable information during size-up.  Early identification of structural compromise, fire location in the structure, e.g. attic, and identification of severely threatened exposures would provide valuable information when determining the strategy.  This information would also aid in identifying key tactical positions/needs.  By deploying a TIC to the exposures, information could be obtained as to the extent of impingement to the exposed structure, early identification of avenues of fire spread and possibly any hot spots, which could cause extension.

It shall be the responsibility of the Company Officer/Command to rapidly deploy the TIC in a visibly diminished atmosphere or in an atmosphere that may suddenly become visibly diminished.

Primary Application

The primary use of the TIC for the fire department is for conducting search/rescue and crew accountability tasks.  The use of a TIC can prove to be a useful tool during search and rescue tasks by reducing the amount of time it may take using standard search techniques.  This will lead to a more effective and organized search, while quickly identifying the fire.  By locating the fire quickly, we will better be able to determine our tactical priorities and rescue priorities (do we remove the victims from the fire or remove the fire from the victims).

The TIC will enhance the ability to maintain crew accountability by increasing the vision capabilities of the operator/Company Officer.  This will ultimately lead to enhanced firefighter safety while working in a hostile environment.  This does not replace the accountability tasks required of the officers and each individual operating on the fireground.  It remains imperative that all teams stay together in complex situations and/or structures in order to enhance safety and survival.

While the TIC may enhance the operation of the crews on the fireground, it is imperative to realize, that with any tool, there are limitations.  TIC deployment into the operation should not propagate a sense of security.  Crews and TIC operators must be aware that the TIC may malfunction and sole reliance on the camera is not prudent firefighting.  Additionally, it should not replace or violate the core of our experience, training, safety procedures, or standard firefighting practices/principles.  As always, safety must be the top priority. 

Use a side to side and up and down motion during operation.

Sudden white out of a scene may signal rapid increase in room temperature with flashover imminent or occurred.  The image sensor will detect reflections from glass, mirrors, and polished or painted surfaces.  The actual source of the image may be directly opposite that point.


After each use, inspect the TIC for structural, heat, and/or chemical damage to the case or lens.  Carefully examine all mechanical hardware to ensure no screws are loose or missing.  Clean all external surfaces by wiping with a solution of mild detergent and warm water.  Dry with a soft, lint-free cloth to avoid scratching the optical surfaces.  Ensure to recharge the battery after each use.

CAUTION: Do not use solvents or paint thinners to clean the TIC, as they could permanently mar the surface or degrade the protective properties of the casing.