Thermal imaging cameras (TICs) aren't new to the fire service. Whether you're remembering that expensive first camera that seemed to outweigh your SCBA or today's more affordable pistol-grip TICs, you know what they're capable of. Seeing through smoke, quickly locating victims, and pinpointing hot spots make TICs an indispensable tool for both offensive and defensive attacks.
Not all cameras are created equal. Determining whether a situational or tactical TIC is right for you will help you walk away with a dependable, live-saving tool appropriate for your role.
You're part of an aggressive interior attack, conducting SAR or bringing the fight to the fire. Visibility is poor and conditions change in the blink of an eye. Separation from your line can mean a complete loss of vision and disorientation. Flying blind is unacceptable—situational TICs are a lifeline when things go south. They are compact, affordable tools designed to help you quickly regain your bearings, locate victims, and get out.
While lower resolutions and slower refresh rates prevent situational TICs from being used to interpret fire behavior and making go/no-go decisions, they're rugged and well-equipped to restore your vision when immediate evacuation is necessary.
You're calling the shots. Whether outside directing a knockdown or closely monitoring conditions on the interior, every decision you make is calculated. The more information you have the better. Anticipating what's next could save a life.
High resolutions and fast framerates make tactical TICs effective tools for the officer leading a line and making go/no-go decisions. Bigger, brighter screens, and sensitive IR detectors capture key details while on the interior, revealing hotspots and even convective currents. With proper training, a tactical TIC will help you make more informed, mission-critical decisions with confidence.
Both situational and tactical TICs have their place. In a perfect world, each apparatus would have a tactical TIC riding shotgun and multiple situational TICs in the back. Obviously, this isn't always feasible. Getting the most out of your thermal camera hinges on understanding its intended use. Will this be your self-preservation fallback? Having a situational TIC on your hip will give you sight when you need it most. Need a tool to closely monitor fire behavior? A tactical TIC could help you safely and effectively combat modern structural fires.