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Why thermal imaging cameras are essential equipment for these emergency scenarios

FLIR offers a range of TICs that aid in situational awareness, decision making and enhanced safety

By Robert Avsec for FireRescue1 BrandFocus

I remember my fire and EMS department getting its first thermal imaging camera (TIC) back in the early 1990s. It was a helmet-mounted model from FLIR. It was heavy and it cost $25,000.

Fast forward about 10 years or so and TICs had shrunk dramatically in both size and weight, and in cost. TICs began taking their rightful place in the new firefighter “protective gear package” alongside PPE, SCBA, and PASS (and added another acronym to the package as well!).

Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR can enhance firefighter safety and situational awareness.
Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR can enhance firefighter safety and situational awareness. (image/FLIR)

Jump to the current day and there's a TIC for the different situations and job responsibilities on the emergency scene. Today, fire departments have options and, in this article, we're going to show you what some of those options include.


The K1 Situational Awareness Camera from FLIR is a lightweight and affordable pistol-grip camera designed to give fire departments the ability to provide all their personnel on the emergency scene with a TIC, giving them a complete view of the fire scene through smoke or in total darkness. That can mean better situational awareness which is vital for more safe, effective, and efficient emergency operations like:

Outdoor ground searches. Using a TIC’s capability (both on the ground and in the air) to detect heat produced by the human body during outdoor ground searches, searchers can cover more ground more quickly and potentially locate the victim sooner, thereby increasing their survivability.

Wildland fires. With wildland fires continuing to grow in both frequency and severity every year, TICs have proven invaluable for more quickly sizing up a fire (from the ground and aloft). Individual firefighters equipped with the K-1 Situational Awareness TIC are also better protected from rapidly moving infernos because they can use their TIC to rapidly and accurately identify hot spots and monitor fire’s progress. And that capability can also help firefighters avoid being killed or injured while operating around wildland firefighting apparatus (e.g., dozers or tenders) because of smoky conditions.


The FLIR models K33 and K53 provide a variety of features and enhancements that give on-scene decision-makers—the Incident Commander, the Ops Chief, the Planning Chief—the tools they need to collect and analyze data to make better tactical choices on the emergency scene. Both models of camera provide clear thermal imagery on a bright 4-inch display with the K33, offering 240 x 180-pixel resolution and the K53 “bumping it up” with 320 x 240-pixel resolution (because more pixels mean a clearer picture).

And who wouldn’t want a camera (the K53) that provides a clear picture and the capability to internally store 200 image files that can consist of pictures and/or five-minute video clips for after-action review and incident reporting? Think of the uses such a camera could provide for:

  • A liquid hazardous materials release where a TIC can be used to quickly determine the size and magnitude of the spill, how much liquid remains in a container, and a more precise location on the ground and the extent of its spread. And a TIC can aid greatly in determining a more precise location of the product if it’s floating on water.
  • Motor vehicle crashes, especially at night or during low-visibility conditions (such as falling snow or fog) where TICs have proven their value for more effective and efficient assessment of the crash scene for spilled fuels or other hazardous materials. Also, TICs are valuable in speeding the search for unaccounted occupants of vehicles, as well as determining the total number of vehicles and their locations.

As to the K53’s capability to store photographs and video recordings, how valuable can that be for better incident management documentation (e.g., after-action reports or regulatory requirements)? Or improving the operational capabilities of your department’s personnel by reviewing photos and videos from real incidents during training sessions?


Ask any turntable operator of an aerial device flowing an elevated master stream of 1000 gpm on a fire what their greatest concern is and they’re most likely to tell you “Am I getting enough of the wet stuff (water) on the red stuff (the fire)?” Because especially when there’s smoke obscuring their view of the nozzle at the tip of the ladder 80-feet or more above them, they just don’t know.

The KF6 from FLIR is the industry's first thermal imager designed and built specifically for aerial apparatus applications. When mounted at the end of an aerial ladder or onto a ladder bucket, the KF6 provides the turntable operator with a high-angle thermal view of rooftops and other elevated structures, helping them see through thick smoke and target the hottest areas more effectively and efficiently.

With a KF6 on the end of their aerial device, the turntable operator can effectively and efficiently conduct evaluation sweeps of upper level floors from the outside and quickly identify where the incident commander needs to deploy interior firefighting operations.


Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, are gaining increased use by fire departments for aerial surveillance. The addition of a TIC only serves to increase a drone’s value and a department’s ROI (return on investment).

The FLIR Vue Pro is a TIC specifically designed to integrate with your department’s existing drone. The Vue Pro records both digital video and still thermal imagery to a removable micro-SD card safeguarding against any data loss should your drone lose its transmission capability.

And with FLIR’s MAVLink compatibility for image geo-tagging, the accessory port on the Vue Pro allows easy integration with your drone’s flight control system, giving your drone operator the capability to control your TIC’s functions in flight.

So, there you have it. A quick overview of the variety of thermal imaging cameras in the FLIR line that can help your people to do their job – wherever that is and whatever it is – more safely, effectively, and efficiently.

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