When the Albany (New York) Fire Department equipped its firefighters with the Reveal FirePRO X, they aimed to help them perform their jobs safely, easily, and to complete operations more rapidly.
The department’s members soon turned the handheld device into a multipurpose tool, finding that it held enormous benefits in hazmat situations. Firefighters now use it to investigate and identify hazardous material levels in tanks and pressure vessels, to see hazardous materials floating on highways after a crash, and to conduct these investigations from a safe distance.
The lightweight, multipurpose device provides needed thermal imaging to a department that once had a single thermal imager the size of a loaf of bread. The personal thermal imagers have already proven their worth.
“We had an incident where we were unsure where the incident was. Our firefighters used the technology to locate the fire so they could extinguish it quickly and prevent it from becoming something bigger,” says Chief Joseph Gregory of the Albany FD.
The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) experienced comparable results when it added the Reveal FirePRO X to its firefighter gear. “This thermal imaging camera cuts through smoke, it cuts through heat, and it gives us back our eyes in that environment,” says Assistant Chief Wade White.
LAFD Fire Captain Brett Wilkins calls the device a “force multiplier” because every firefighter can use a thermal imager to search for victims in a fire. “We can scan an area quickly and get victims to safety,” he says, adding that the device also helps firefighters ensure a fire is completely out before they leave.
Havershaw, New York, Fire Captain Jose Mulero echoes their sentiments. He hopes to equip every member of his team with the Reveal FirePRO X attached to their SCBA. This is vastly different from when the department had one thermal imager carried by an officer in charge.
He says, “just as every firefighter has a flashlight and a radio, every firefighter will have a thermal imaging camera.”
Mulero reveals that at a recent call with high heat and zero visibility the device helped him search for children. “It sped up my process searching the hallway and in searching in rooms,” he says.
These stories are a small sampling of the successes that firefighting teams, whether industrial or structural, can see when individual members have access to thermal imaging cameras.
Vincent Fassbender, global marketing manager of Seek Thermal, reports these success stories will drive adoption of the handheld thermal imagers in all fire departments, which has been the longtime vision of the company’s founders Bill Parrish and Tim Fitzgibbons.
“Parrish is known as the father of thermal imaging and he’s always been at the forefront of the revolution to bring thermal imaging size down,” says Fassbender. “His goal has been to make this technology more accessible, and achieving maximum accessibility starts with usability and price.”
Seek Thermal’s first step on its journey to drive up accessiblity began with speaking to fire departments across the nation.
“When we went into the field, it shocked us to realize that usually the fire chief is the only one with the thermal imaging camera; it’s big and bulky and it sits in the office. And when you talk to firefighters, they said they never touch it because it’s the only one, it’s expensive and they are afraid they will break it,” he says.
The technology itself also presented challenges. “We needed a way to downsize the devices, lower the price, and make them easy for firefighters to carry. Firefighters already carry 60 to 70 pounds of gear,” Fassbender says.
Parrish and Fitzgibbons, both engineers by trade, discovered ways to make thermal imagers smaller and lighter while delivering professional quality resolution.
“It took a while,” admits Fassbender. “Our first prototype didn’t make it through a structural fire. But we collaborated with firefighters in the field to meet all requirements and make these devices firefighter friendly.”
Reveal FirePRO X is the size of a smartphone and clips easily to a firefighter’s turnout gear. The device combines a high-performance 320x240 thermal imaging sensor with intuitive software that helps firefighters fight fires smarter and safer.
Firefighters can use the new device in:
- Primary Searches: To scan a structure for people and pets and locate the source of the fire.
- Self-Rescue: An additional lifeline to help firefighters find their way out in low visibility. They can locate windows, cooler regions, and hose lines for self-rescue.
- Downed Firefighter Situations: Firefighters can respond to mayday calls and locate fellow members in smoke-filled environments.
- Alarms, Smells, and Smoke: Teams can identify the source of hidden problems. The unit can help identify hotspots, faulty wiring, shorts, and more.
- Hazmat: Hazmat teams can investigate and identify hazardous material levels in tanks and pressure vessels and investigate situations from a safe distance.
- Overhaul: Using thermal imagers increases the number of eyes searching for hot spots so teams can leave the scene confident that the fire is out.
- Non-Fire Search and Rescue: Help find missing people in the dark.
- Training: Teach firefighters about fire dynamics.
- Situational Awareness: The tool helps firefighters keep visual contact with other members in low visibility situations to improve situational awareness and efficiency.
Thermal Imaging Specs
The Reveal FirePRO X is Seek Thermal’s most sophisticated thermal imager yet. Its 320x240 thermal imaging sensor provides a wide 32-degree field of view that can detect objects from 12 inches to 1,800 feet away. This device helps members locate victims, navigate the fire scene, and identify hazards in seconds.
The thermal imager’s IP67 rating and sealed housing protects it from water damage while damage-resistant Gorilla Glass keeps the screen free of cracks and scratches. The device operates in temperatures that range from -4 degrees Fahrenheit (F) to 1,022 degrees F. The Reveal FirePRO X operates for up to 3.5 hours of continuous use with a long-lasting rechargeable battery. And when firefighters need it, they can access a powerful 300-lumen LED with the touch of a button.
A sealed magnet charge port enables fast charging. To charge multiple thermal imagers at once, the company offers the Reveal FirePRO Multi-Charge, a four-unit multi charger that can sit at the station or on the truck to charge devices after use.
“This allows firefighters to drop it on the charger after coming off the truck,” Fassbender says. “It takes up to three hours to charge a device again.”
Best of all, Fassbender says departments can equip all firefighters with the device at a price point under $1,000. “We are seeing really great adoption,” he says. “We feel like we’ve crossed a chasm here because we are seeing very rapid adoption as departments see how affordable it is.”
Learn How to Use It
“Most firefighters have a good understanding of thermal imaging making training a breeze,” says Fassbender, who notes the Los Angeles Fire Department created a 5-minute video to train its department.
Seek Thermal also explains all firefighters need to know in a 17-page user’s guide. The document walks firefighters through registering the product, charging its battery and setting up the device, then instructs them on its use.
The device has three modes operated by three buttons on the side. The first is Fire Mode, which displays an image in shades of gray. When it detects areas of extreme heat, the hot areas turn bright orange and red. Firefighters can use this mode to locate active fire and caution areas that are about to flashover. This mode also is useful for detecting hotspots and overhaul, says Fassbender.
Survey Mode provides a monochromatic filter palette of different shares of blue, which turn white, then yellow, then red around hotter areas. Members can use this mode to locate downed personnel and victims in search-and-rescue operations. A body will look cooler than the surrounding environment, Fassbender explains.
Color Mode works well to train users in the classroom. It also is a useful demo mode for third-party observers, he says.
Fassbender summaries that the camera shows heat profiles in color. Red equals hot and cooler things are blue.
“We want to make thermal imaging devices smaller and better. Our goal is to make sure every firefighter in America leaves the station with one of our products,” he says.
Other than that, Fassbender says he’s unsure where the technology might head. Eventually, it may connect to other thermal imagers in the field, but right now connectivity via Bluetooth would increase the size too much. Perhaps instead of clipping it to a turnout coat, the device will be small enough to embed in a fire helmet.
“We are seeing a lot of interest in having a thermal imaging camera mounted on the helmet, where firefighters can see on the screen as they navigate a fire and wear SCBA,” he says.
He adds what he knows is “this is the start of the next big fire safety revolution. The first was contained oxygen, the next is thermal imaging. The interest has always been there, but the lower price now makes thermal imaging cameras accessible to all.”
For more information, visit www.thermal.com/firefighting.html.