Tricks of the Trade: Thermal Imagers

Thermal Imagers  (TIC’s) are prevalent in the modern day fire department. TICs have a variety of  tactical uses including  searching for victims, searching for hotspots, water rescue, and Hazardous Materials incidents. The most common use is searching for victims in a structure fire. It should be noted that TICs: DO NOT REPLACE PROPER SEARCH TACTICS, they are merely a tool that should be used to expand upon proper search tactics.


A common myth of the TIC is that you can magically walk through smoke and see avoiding all hazards. This can give you a false security in a building.  Objects will appear farther away on a camera, giving a false sense of depth. This can cause you to fall down steps and trip over object possible causing injury and probably making you look like an idiot. A method to overcome this is; hold your tool in front of you, look at it through the camera, this will give you a reference point.

In a significant fire, the heat may cause the camera to white-out, rendering it useless. It should also be noted that steam can white-out a camera.  Many times this can be remedied by simply wiping off the camera lcd screen and then also the front lens.

My personal opinion is that TICs should be used with a partner. This will allow one person to scan with the camera, while the other searches the old fashioned way. For example, when coming to a room, have the camera operator scan the room and verbalize to his partner objects, such as windows furniture and people. This tandem camera operation also enables a team to monitor heat conditions this is especially helpful when searching ahead of the hoseline or above the fire.

In summary TICs are a great technological tool and the well rounded firefighter should become familiar with its operation, and it’s limitations. That means taking it out the case and training with it before a real fire occurs. However, the reality is… is just another tool in the toolbox, a TIC cannot replace proper and agressive search tactics.


One Response

  1. I agree with you 100% on your opinion that TICs should be used with a partner allowing one to scan the other to search..
    I found that this keeps you more in tune with your search tactics and thus not allowing for a complete camera led search..

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