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How Thermal Imaging Can Help Brave Firefighters

Firefighter Thermal Imaging Cameras: Saving Lives and Increasing Safety

First responders now rely on the use of technology more than ever. Of all the first responders that can benefit from the use of a thermal imaging camera, firefighters may very well be at the top of the list. For a firefighter, thermal imaging cameras can literally be a lifesaver.

Thermal cameras help firefighters in numerous ways, helping them to put out blazes faster, locate victims, and protect themselves as well. It’s no surprise that thousands of firefighters across the world now make thermal imaging a daily part of their job, and a valuable allow in a number of scenarios.

What is Thermal Imaging Technology?

Thermal imaging involves creating a visual image out of what the naked I can’t see. Normal cameras create images using light, but thermal imagers rely on electromagnetic energy that radiates from heat instead.

A thermal imaging camera is a thermal imager that is a heat sensor capable of detecting tiny differences in temperature. The device collects the infrared radiation from objects in the scene and creates an electronic image based on information involving the temperature differences.

These cameras can come in many forms. Some are large devices that have to be wheeled around, others require two hands two hold, and the most used thermal imagers you’ll come across now are handheld devices that are ergonomic and controlled by a trigger to initiate the image capture. These are what firefighters normally use, although some can be helmet mounted.

While all thermal imaging cameras have an infrared sensor to pick most of the the infrared wavelengths in the field of view, many also have a visual light lens that creates an image to superimpose over the infrared image, providing more context and detail to the infrared image.

Most thermal imager cameras have a screen that gives an instant visual of the image captured, and some can instantly upload the images to a network, or send the image and even video in real-time to other devices. Some firefighters use imagers that can stream the visuals to firefighters outside of the structure.

Applications for Firefighters

Thermal imagers provide plenty of uses for firefighters, even in situations that don’t actually involve fires.

Trapped or Incapacitated Victims

First and foremost, firefighters use thermal imagers to see through dense smoke when they are navigating through a structure. Dense smoke can cloud a firefighter’s vision, causing them much difficulty in locating any victims trapped inside a structure that is on fire.

Thermal Imaging

Sometimes victims are unconscious due to the smoke, and unable to call for help. Thermal imagers can read both body heat and heat from fires, allows a fireman to quickly scan a smoke-filled room for a victim, along with any dangerous areas in along the way.

Electrical Hotspots

Electrical malfunctions are one of the most common reasons for a fire inside a structure. Firefighters can use thermal imagers to quickly asses circuit boards, fuse boxes, and wall outlets, identifying the source of an electrical problem that may pose a threat, or is currently responsible for an emergency situation.

Detecting Electrical Hotspots with Thermal Camera

Assessing a Fire

While firefighters are highly trained in how fires spread, and what parts of a structure are most likely to be engulfed first, they don’t have x-ray vision. Thermal imagers allow firefighters to locate hot spots inside of walls and ceilings, alerting them to fires they may not yet see.

One example of this is using an imager to identify the severity of an attic fire that has not yet spread to the rest of the home. This allows the firefighter to focus on certain areas while putting the fire out, giving them a better chance of saving other parts of the home.

Flir Cameras are Used by Many FDs

This can be very helpful when ensuring that a fire is fully out. Fire inside of walls can easily spread when reaching insulation before moving on, so having the ability to catch something before it becomes a bigger problem is a huge advantage.

This also gives firefighters a better way of ensuring their own safety, as they can identify hot spots on the floor that may collapse underneath them. Simply put, a thermal imagers gives firefighters the ability to see the fire in its entirety, allowing them to assess multiple aspects all at once.

Locating Missing Persons and Animals

A lot can go wrong during disastrous situations, and this sometimes results in missing persons. This is big problem that is made worse during the night. Thermal imagers can point out people that may be hidden in a wooded area, tall grass, or inside a wrecked car.

Thermal Imaging as Tool for Locating People Underneath Razed Buildings or Avalanches

The imagers can actually spot footprints in the ground if they just occurred, helping lead rescuers to a subject they are trying to locate. There have even been reports of first responders using thermal imaging to locate body parts that may have been amputated, giving them a better chance of preserving the limbs for surgery.

Have a classic case of a missing cat stuck in a tree? Firefighters can use thermal imaging to quickly locate the cat, or any other missing animal, increasing the chances of a happy ending.

Hazmat Cleanup

Thermal imaging cameras can be used to determine levels of hazardous liquids, or their reactions when inside of containers. If a thermal imager is directed at a certain container, it can often detect the difference of the temperatures between the liquid and vapor levels found inside.

Thermal imagers can also be used to detect any leaking gas or hazardous liquid containers, as well as tracing vapor clouds inside of an interior area.

This can allow firefighters to move bystanders away to safer areas, while accurately assessing the danger posed to themselves when responding to calls of hazardous chemical situations.


Thermal imagers have a wide range of uses that extend far beyond DIY projects and preventative maintenance. Firefighters continue to rely upon thermal imaging every day in a wide variety of scenarios, allowing them to do their jobs more effectively and safely, while also better ensuring the safety of those they are burdened with rescuing and protecting.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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