Thermal Imaging Cameras

Above: Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal Imaging Photo

Above: Thermal Imaging Photo

Live fire test

Above: Live fire test!

Firefighter Using Thermal Imaging Camera in Fire Experiment

Above: Firefighter Using Thermal Imaging Camera in Fire Experiment

Evaluation of Thermal Imaging Systems Technology

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This USFA/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research partnership conducted research on the performance of thermal imaging systems to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations. This project complements existing NIST funded research on the development of a standard on thermal imaging technology.

The findings of the research performed by this project resulted in the development of a draft standard on Thermal Imaging Cameras (TIC) that was provided to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment in support of the development of a new national-level consensus TIC standard where none had existed previously - NFPA 1801 Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service.

Each year fires in structures trap hundreds of firefighters resulting in firefighter injury and death. Firefighters can be quickly overcome by the heat or smoke of a fire and may be unable to alert other fire ground personnel to their position/location. New thermal imaging devices or infrared cameras are appearing on the market, and their use is becoming more widespread in efforts to help locate downed fire fighters or other victims within burning structures. Currently there is no standard method to evaluate different units, and there are no national-level standards regarding the design, performance, or operation of thermal imaging units. There is a need to incorporate the use of thermal imaging units into fire ground tactics. Better evaluation, standards, training, and understanding of the capabilities of thermal imaging systems was identified as a research need at the May 1999 Fire Research Needs Workshop conducted by the USFA and NIST by the participants representing the fire service.

This USFA/NIST project conducted research on the performance of thermal imaging systems to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations. This effort examined the capabilities and limitations of such systems leading to better evaluation, standards, training, and understanding by local-fire and emergency services departments. Issues such as differential resolution, thermal exposure, performance during suppression, ease of use, etc. were examined by this study.

This project assessed current thermal imaging technology by investigating a variety of commercially available thermal imaging cameras in the laboratory as well as in full-scale burns. Laboratory experiments included controlled exposure/response in ovens, under-ventilated or smoldering conditions, over-ventilated or flaming fires, and humidity chambers. Full-scale burns involved exposure in furnished rooms in the Large Fire Facility and exposure to test burns in the field. This project also explored new technology that might enhance performance of future thermal imaging devices and worked to incorporate new technology into enhanced infrared cameras.

A technical report, Thermal Imaging Research Needs for First Responders: Workshop Proceedings (NIST SP 1040) which documents the needs of the fire service community has been completed as part of this project.

Performance Metrics for Thermal Imaging Cameras

NIST Technical Note 1499, Performance Metrics for Fire Fighting Thermal Imaging Cameras - Small- and Full-Scale Experiments, provides information on the research conducted as part of this project partnership on TIC imaging performance metrics and test methods, with an overall objective of providing science-based information to national standards developing organizations (SDO), including the NFPA in support of NFPA 1801, Standard on Thermal Imagers for the Fire Service. Performance metrics that describe TIC image contrast, effective temperature range, spatial resolution, image nonuniformity, and thermal sensitivity were selected or developed, based on an analysis of the information gathered.

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