Thermals for First Responders
First responders, such as police officers and firefighters, have a desire to help others and serve their communities. That desire, paired with the exciting and often unpredictable nature of the work, is what makes them a special and unique group of people. First response agencies range from volunteer and paid to combination departments. Regardless of the structure of their makeup, they all have a common goal; to serve and protect the citizens of the communities they serve.
First responders have many specialized and unique tools to help them do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Police officers use mobile data computers to help them find specific addresses, get updated dispatch information and look up pertinent information to the call. Every shift, they put on their duty belt that holds their service pistol, taser, cuffs, flashlights and gloves. They put on their vest that will shield them from the uncertainty of what the day may hold. Tactical officers utilize tools specifically designed to surprise and disorient suspects.
Firefighters have the jaws of life capable of removing tons of twisted metal, nozzles that are designed for foam application, hoses of all sizes for different types of fires and catastrophes—along with thousands of other tools make up the fire department’s vast array of gear options.
Thermal imaging cameras in use by most fire departments are designed to withstand the heat encountered in house fires. Temperatures can reach 1000 degrees or more at the ceiling and several hundred degrees at the floor. These cameras assist firefighters in quickly locating victims that have been trapped or overcome with heat and smoke. It also allows crews to keep track of one another in blackout conditions and helps find hazards such as holes in the floor and missing staircases. Thermal imaging cameras help rescue crews locate the seat of the fire and any hidden fire that may be overhead or in walls.
Thermal imaging cameras designed to withstand the extreme heat present in fire conditions do have limitations in other applications—field of view is relatively small, and they are not designed to scan long distances.
There are numerous instances when personal handheld thermals in the hands of police and firefighters are very beneficial to the emergency scene. Many times, we find ourselves on a stretch of road in the middle of the night called to a vehicle that has rolled over. In some instances, the driver has simply called a friend and walked away. In other instances, officers and firefighters walk the side of the roadway with flashlights searching in the dark for a victim that may have been ejected and is injured.
Many natural disasters happen at night. We often find ourselves searching homes and surrounding areas for residents or pets that have been displaced due to tornadoes or flood water. Being able to scan large open areas quickly is a huge advantage to responding crews. Quickly locating a victim that is clinging to a tree after their car was swept away by floodwater could save a life. The faster victims are located, the faster plans can be made, and resources can be gathered to make the rescue.
Firefighters all over the country have encountered wildfires of some type. In many parts of the country, these are seasonal, with wildfire seasons peaking in the heat of summer and again in the winter when everything has become dormant. In some areas, however, there is no real “season” and wildfires of significant magnitude are fueled by drought and wind conditions. Thermal imaging cameras such as the Pulsar Axion XM30S or Helion 2 offer first responders the ability to locate hotspots, find areas of new fire and actually watch how areas of fire are being affected by the wind. With thermal technology, these devices are picking up heat signatures and thus pick up the heat and embers generated by the fire and wind. This gives firefighters and incident commanders an idea of where “spot fires” may form from flying embers.
Handheld thermal imaging has a place for use by first responders. It is another tool that crews can add to their vast toolboxes. The list of potential uses will grow with every unique call encountered. With the cost of this technology becoming very affordable, the potential to see police departments and fire departments around the world implementing this for their personnel is very real. Think outside the box!