Thermal imaging cameras give firefighters a big advantage

Martensville Fire Chief Kurtis Dyck demonstrates the new thermal imaging camera integrated with an SCBA

Martensville firefighters gave themselves the gift of sight this Christmas season.
The department purchased ten specially-designed thermal imaging cameras (TICs) earlier this month, boosting individual firefighters’ ability to see heat-emitting objects in zero-visibility conditions like total darkness or smoke-filled buildings.
The cameras are specially-adapted to fit onto the air supply regulator of the firefighters’ self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs). The camera is attached to the SCBA and easily accessible when needed; but it’s also not in the way when the firefighter needs both hands for other tasks.

The MSA thermal imaging camera screen shows the heat given off by two individuals.

Martensville Fire Chief Kurtis Dyck said while TICs are not new, these lightweight individual devices greatly increase effectiveness and safety.
“We’ve had two thermal imaging cameras for years,” said Dyck in an interview at the fire hall on Wednesday, December 13. “But only one person can use the camera at a time, and we only have one per truck.”
The addition of ten new TICs means more firefighters have the ability to “see in the dark,” which increases their ability to find injured people in difficult conditions. It also adds another level of safety for firefighters themselves, said Dyck.
“It allows the firefighter to get in and out safely in zero visibility,” said Dyck. “Even if the building is full of smoke we can go through it and see everything.”
Martensville firefighter James Taylor said having the TIC physically attached to the SCBA makes a huge difference.
“Traditionally, if you’re carrying a camera, you’re also carrying other tools, and also trying to advance a hose at the same time,” said Taylor. “It’s a juggling act, because you don’t want to set the camera down. You might not be able to find it again.
“With these cameras, they’re just hanging there and you don’t have to worry about losing them.”
Dyck said the Saskatoon Fire Department also has this type of TIC. Martensville Fire Department members voted unanimously to make the purchase after he outlined the advantages of the devices.

Martensville firefighter James Taylor

“The timing was right,” said Dyck. “MSA, the manufacturer, was basically selling the units for half price, this year only.
“So even though it wasn’t in the budget, we voted to make the purchase, and to pay for it using funds raised from our recent Protective Services Gala.”
The ten cameras collectively cost about $10,000. The gala raised about $13,000 in total.
Department members have used the new cameras during training exercises, but haven’t needed them in an actual fire yet, said Dyck.
He said the cameras can detect hot spots in the initial phases of a fire, allowing firefighters to zero in on critical areas. They also ensure no smouldering remnants remain during the mopping-up phase.
The cameras will also prove useful when emergency personnel respond to motor vehicle collisions at night, said Dyck.
“If someone has been ejected from a vehicle, this allows us to scan the immediate area and find them quickly,” he said.