As world advances, a firefighter can now use thermal imaging technology to respond to fire incidents.
This happens by the use of thermal imaging camera (TIC) which can literally help in putting out a fire quicker, saving lives, locating victims who might be trapped in the affected building, and also protect firefighters when going about their operations.
Best Thermal Imaging Camera for Firefighting
While there are numerous advantages associated with thermal imaging technology when it comes to firefighting, which is the top thermal imaging camera for fire service?
Here are 3 top options to consider, depending on your budget and needs:
#1: FLIR K2 Thermal Camera
FLIR K2 thermal imaging camera is integrated with Flir’s Multi-spectral (MSX) technology that provides key details in an image that has been captured, with a built-in visible light camera which seeks to enhance the thermal image quality.
A combination of the visible light image and thermal image provides a detailed display that can help firefighters to identify structures in and the surroundings of the support.
K2 is built with a tough design that is rugged and reliable when operating in tough conditions that firefighters tend to go through when in putting out a fire and searching for victims.
FLIR K2 can withstand a drop of 2 meters onto concrete. It is also water resistant (IP67) and can remain fully operational for up to +260◦C or +500◦F for about three minutes.
The Flir K2 is built with a compact design that is light and can easily be attached to turnouts. Along with compact design, the K2 features a single button operation that makes it easier for the user to control the camera even when in gloves.
The camera is able to display the captured and enhanced images on the bright LCD that can help you navigate through dark areas or in a room filled with smoke. Its intuitive interface allows a firefighter to remain focused on the main task. The one button that the K2 has allows the user to access all the options through it.
The K2 also features multiple image modes, with 7 different thermal imaging modes that can be set depending on the scenario you want to use the camera for. You can change the modes by using the Flir tools software program which you can download for free from Flir.
K2, the cheapest option of FLIR K-series thermal imaging camera for firefighting and fire service, has many powerful applications that help firefighters:
You can actually use it to see your way through the smoke due to its bright LCD display, you can track the stranded victims and keep track of your colleagues, and also it helps you identify the areas that you should focus your efforts on when attacking the fire. During overhaul, the Flir K2 helps you to scan for hot spots easily and faster.
The K2 can be said to be on its own level of affordability, simply because it is very affordable thus making it easier and giving a better way for firefighters to access thermal imaging that helps ensure their safety and that of the public.
Any fire department can benefit from this thermal camera that makes firefighting and rescue operation activities to take place faster, while firefighters will be able to save lives and protect properties. Fire departments can easily acquire them and equip every fire truck with one.
In video below, Chief Brent Elliott of Green Bay F.D. shares his insights of how thermal imaging camera help firefighters put off fire more efficiently and safely.
#2: HTI@XT Instrument Thermal Imager
If the price of FLIR K2 is out of your budget, and you simply want the cheapest firefighter thermal imaging camera for training purpose, then HTI@XT Infrared Thermal Imager is a good option to consider.
This handheld budget thermal camera has high IR resolution of 35200 pixels (220 x 160), compared to 19200 pixels of FLIR K2 (160 × 120 pixel IR Resolution).
However, the maximum temperature range of this camera is 300℃, while K2 can operate upto 500 °C. As such, the operability of HTI@XT Instrument thermal image camera in high temperatures is not a good as FLIR K2.
Its 3.2″ full viewing angle high-resolution Thin Film Transistor (TFT) color screen is also relatively smaller size than the large 4″ LCD screen of FLIR K-series thermal cameras.
Options #3 – #5: FLIR K45 / K55 / K65 Thermal Camera
The FLIR K45 / K55 / K65 are the high-end K-series thermal imaging cameras that FLIR specifically design for firefighting and fire service departments. They are actually the latest gadgets of FLIR K-series and have been improved in such a way that they allow better vision for firefighters even in total darkness or in spots that are filled with smoke.
These thermal cameras are built with the Flexible Scene Enhancement (FSX) technology that is meant to produce a thermal image that is ultra-crisp. The large 4-inch LCD screen display shows high quality structural, edge and any other detail that can be instantly recognized, which makes it easier for fighters to make the sound decisions as they continue with their rescue mission and putting out the fire.
FSX technology is simply integrated with the FLIR K45 / K55 / K65 to enhance the quality of the image by providing more detail than the other models of K-series that precede it.
FLIR K45 / K55 / K65 have interactive controls that make them easier to use even when one has the gloves on. They feature 3 large but simple buttons that allow a firefighter to focus on the task at hand while still being able to access the control options of the thermal camera.
These thermal cameras with FSX are also rigged and reliable. Their built is designed to be used even in tough conditions, and it can actually withstand a drop from 2 meters on a concrete floor. The camera is also water resistant and remains fully functional up to +260◦C or +500◦F for about 5 minutes.
K45 is the least expensive among these 3 top firefighting thermal imaging camera models.
Onboard video recording is the excellent new feature of top-end K55 and K65 models.
This one great feature makes it an ideal thermal imaging camera that can record happenings during a fire which is then used for training sessions. Along with the onboard video recording, the K55 also has an onboard image storage with a capacity of up to 200 thermal images.
It provides an output that is compatible with the broad storage format-JPEG. This makes it easier for the images to be transferred to a computer or a mobile device for review later.
Given its onboard storage capacity, the thermal images stored in the K55 and K65 can be used later to create reports of what was captured at the fire scene. The JPEG storage format of this TIC makes it easier for the images to be shared with colleagues in the fire department, and onboard video recording feature make these thermal imaging cameras ideal for training firefighting personnel.
These latest models of Flir’s K-series family show that FLIR constantly looking for ways to incorporate innovative advances in thermal imaging technology that are ideal for firefighting.
While FLIR tends to be enjoying from the economies of scale since it manufactures many thermal imaging cameras that are highly preferred in the market, these FLIR K55 and K65 top new models are relatively much more expensive. They do, however, come with warranty that covers the entire thermal imager for two years, while the detector is covered for 10 years.
As shown, the FLIR K-series thermal imaging camera prices can start from entry level K2 model at $1250+ to around $7000 for K65 as best thermal imaging camera for fire service and firefighting.
Choosing a Thermal Imaging Camera for Fire Service and Firefighting: Factors to Consider
Given the very important benefits associated with the use of thermal imaging cameras, firefighters all over the world are adopting this technology in their daily tasks.
Therefore, there is need to choose the correct thermal imaging camera in order to make sure that they can serve the daily needs of firefighters.
Let’s look to the 11 factors below that should be considered when choosing a thermal imaging camera for firefighting or fire service.
As additional resource, you can check out this “Performance Metrics for Fire Fighting Thermal Imaging Cameras” by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Durability is one of the most important factors that should be considered when one is looking forward to buying a thermal imaging camera for firefighting. When putting out a fire, firefighters are usually in very harsh conditions, which means that your camera too will be subjected to the same harsh conditions.
In order to be sure of the durability of the camera, you need to pay attention to the information provided about the drop, shock, heat and water test results. These tests are actually the conditions that the firefighter may go through when trying to put out a fire and to rescue victims and items. Therefore, you need to evaluate several different models, and most especially consider the test results that have been provided by the manufacturer.
Different models of thermal imaging cameras can have different features. However, you may find there are cameras that have the same features installed in them, but they differ in their implementation, for example, certain features such as high heat colorization and temperature measurements are installed in all thermal imaging cameras, however, their implementation differ from one camera to the other.
Certain features such as the color scheme help to provide results at different temperatures. The color scheme increases when it reaches a certain temperature threshold or decrease when the temperatures start decreasing. Also, there are other models that allow the user to adjust or simply change the color scheme at different exposure to heat.
3. Image Quality
This can be termed as the most important factor that you should consider when buying a thermal imaging camera for firefighting. Every firefighter knows the importance of having a camera that has a great image quality when they are going about their operations. They definitely know that they want something that is very powerful and not something that will give them a poor image quality.
If the picture is very clear, it becomes easier for the firefighting personnel to perform their activities. More often than not, you will hear firefighters saying they want a camera with a great screen that will provide the clearest displays. For you to evaluate the image quality of a TIC, several tests should be done in various different situations, including outdoors, indoors and in environments subjected to high heat.
The imaging performance details of a thermal imaging camera can be tested on various aspects. The imaging performance metric of a TIC can be shown on the following factors:
• The contrast: A contrast test is done in order to identify the maximum possible contrast that can be displayed on the screen of a thermal imaging camera.
• Uniformity of the image: Here a uniformity image test is done to evaluate the ability of the thermal imaging camera to display an image that is perfectly uniformed.
• Effective temperature range: the temperature shows the minimum and the maximum temperature a thermal imaging camera is able to measure. A temperature test is usually done which provides an effective temperature range. The results provide useful information to firefighters when choosing the correct TIC for their activities.
• Thermal sensitivity: A thermal sensitivity test is usually done at different temperatures in order to identify the smallest temperature difference that can be shown by the camera’s display screen.
• Spatial Resolution: the results provided after a spatial resolution test is done usually shows the level of detail that is provided by a thermal imaging camera.
4. Built-in Visible-light Camera
When any firefighting personnel is going about the firefighting activity, they all know the importance of having a tool that does not interfere with their activity or convenience. You don’t have to carry an extra tool along your thermal imaging camera in order to capture the spots that you want to capture in order to perform your rescue better.
There are so many models of imaging cameras that come have a built-in visible light feature that helps to simultaneously capture a thermal image and a visible light image. This provides more detailed images even those that have been taken in darker areas.
Therefore, you the user will be able to provide a detailed report about the situation and also share with others. There are those with built-in laser markers that makes it able for the camera to show the difference between the target spot surrounded by other components that look similar to the spot, thereby showing a problematic electrical equipment that is emitting energy which you need to keep some distance from. The built-in laser markers provide reliable information too.
5. Form Factor and Weight
When it comes to choosing any tool for firefighting, considering its weight and size is very important. This happens also when choosing a TIC. There are those thermal imaging cameras that are smaller and lighter can easily be held in a palm of your hand. The smaller ones may have smaller displays. There are also the larger ones which have larger displays and have handles to allow the user to hold it better. TICs may have side straps or handles, while others may not have the straps.
6. Ergonomic Features
Some thermal imaging cameras have ergonomic features that improve their ease of use. Those that have interactive controls, like the direct access menus and dedicated buttons are usually the most popular.
You will need to choose a thermal imager that has more buttons that are well positioned so that it becomes easier for you to access the options that you want, rather than just relying on one button. There are those models that have integrated touch screens which are meant to improve your access to the options or features.
7. Maximum Operating Temperature and Temperature Range
The temperature range of a thermal imaging camera is very important and should always be considered when buying one. To identify the temperature range of a TIC, a temperature range test is done at different temperatures and the results are provided by with the manufacturer.
The temperature range shows the minimum and the maximum temperatures that a thermal imaging camera can measure. For fighting activities, you will need to select a temperature that is wide enough in order to capture all of the images at different temperatures.
8. Accurate and Repeatable Results
TICs are able to provide the differences in heat by actually measuring those differences. Therefore, you will need a camera that can provide accurate and consistent measurements. The accuracy and consistency of the measurements are very important factors that you should consider in order to buy a thermal camera for firefighting.
For accurate and repeatable results you will need a thermal imaging camera that has some inbuilt tools that allow for entering both emissivity and displayed temperature values. A thermal imaging camera that meets or goes beyond plus or minus 2% accuracy will provide good image that a firefighter may need.
9. Storage and Output Supported by Standard File Formats
A thermal imaging camera that is able to store the captured spots is a good camera, however, that is not enough because you may need to transfer the images to a computer and share them with others. Therefore you will need a camera that provides an output that is broadly supported by standard file formats. There are those models that provide images in JPEG but they may lose temperature information. Some models may have the same JPEG storage capacity but with full temperature analysis integrated, thereby, you will be able to share the images without losing vital temperature information.
10. Reporting Software
A reporting software is a good factor to consider when choosing a thermal imaging camera for firefighting. Most fire departments want models of TICs that have a software which allows them to perform proper image analysis in order to create reports that are simple.
You need to consider the length of the warranty of a thermal imaging camera and the service repair times as well. You need to compare the warranties of different manufacturers so that you can get the warranty in terms of coverage and value. The warranty of a TIC can help you make the final decision after considering all the other factors.
Considering the above important factors will help you buy the correct thermal imaging camera for firefighting that meets your need. However, you will need to have a better understanding of how to use the camera in order to go about your activities better.