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Thermal Imaging Cameras in Fire Fighting

by Marcus
FLIR thermal imaging cameras deliver first-class firefighting services HP

The last few years have seen interest for Thermal imaging cameras grow considerably in a large variety of markets. FLIR Systems designs, manufactures and markets thermal imaging cameras for a wide variety of personal, commercial, and government applications. The applications are as diverse as predictive maintenance, building logistics, R&D, automation or for night vision applications in maritime safety, security or the military.

The thermal imaging camera and how it works

A thermal imaging camera records the intensity of radiation in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum and converts it to a visible image.

What is infrared?

Infared is a form of electromagnetic radiation outside the visible light spectrum where our eyes are designed to detect, and is invisible to the human eye.

In 1800 astronomer Sir Frederick William Herschel discovered infared energy whilst researching why different colours of light had different temperatures. He directed sunlight through a glass prism to create a spectrum and then measured the temperature of each colour. He found that the temperatures of the colours increased from violet to red.

After noticing this pattern Herschel decided to measure the temperature just beyond the red portion of the spectrum in a region where no colour was visible. To his surprise, he found that this region had the highest temperature of all.

Infrared radiation lies between the visible and microwave portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The primary source of infrared radiation is heat or thermal radiation. Any object that has a temperature above absolute zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius or 0 Kelvin) emits radiation in the infrared region, even objects that we think of as being very cold, such as ice cubes, emit infrared radiation.

We experience infrared radiation every day when we feel the heat from sunlight, a fire or a radiator. The nerves in our skin can feel it as heat, even though our eyes cannot see it. The warmer the object, the more infrared radiation it emits.

The thermal imaging camera

Infrared energy (A) coming from an object is focused by the optics (B) onto an infrared detector (C). The detector sends the information to sensor electronics (D) for image processing. The electronics translate the data coming from the detector into an image (E) that can be viewed in the viewfinder or on a standard video monitor or LCD screen.

Infrared thermography is the art of transforming an infrared image into a radiometric one; every pixel in a radiometric image is actually a temperature measurement, so temperature values to be read from the image. This makes the thermal imaging camera a perfect tool for firefighting applications.

Firefighting applications for thermal imaging cameras

Many firefighters know about thermal cameras. They know that thermal cameras help protect them when they have to enter a raging fire, and that it can help them to save the lives of others. Here are a few ways thermal imaging helps make these things happen.

Seeing through smoke
Thermal cameras can see through smoke, giving firefighters better situational awareness, both of where they are in the building, and where they are in relation to their team members. It also helps them find people trapped in the fire.

Thermal cameras are also vital tools when helping firefighters attack the fire. Obviously, the fire itself is easy to see in a thermal imager, but the relatively cold water being sprayed from the hoses also shows up clearly on a thermal image, so firefighters can make sure they get water on the fire as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Measuring temperatures
K-Series thermal cameras can measure temperature from a distance, helping protect firefighters against a dangerous phenomenon called rollover – the stage of a fire in which unburned, superheated gases gathered at the ceiling in an enclosed area ignite.

By monitoring the temperature of the ceiling with the thermal camera while trying to cool down the smoke, they can know that if the temperature exceeds a certain value a rollover may be imminent and react appropriately.

Search and Rescue
Firefighters do more than fight fires – often they’re called on to find missing or injured people. A thermal camera’s ability to see in the dark makes it an invaluable tool in SAR missions.

Thermal imaging cameras show clearly the hot spots where “underground fire” is still burning. By further extinguishing and cooling down the area spontaneous combustion can be prevented.

Selecting the correct thermal imaging camera manufacturer

Regardless of what you’re using the camera for, there are some important things to consider when investing in a thermal camera.

  • Software: Many applications require a software package that will allow you to view, manipulate, and analyze the temperature data in your images, and report what you’ve found. Make sure the camera’s manufacturer also supplies the software you need.
  • Service: Once you start using your thermal camera you won’t be able to live without it, so make sure the manufacturer can service your camera quickly and conveniently should a problem occur.
  • Training: Today’s thermal cameras should be point-and-shoot easy for their basic functions. But to get the most out of your camera some training is often beneficial. A reputable camera manufacturer will have these training resources close at hand.


Although still “exotic” technology in many markets, thermal cameras are well-known tools in the firefighting community, and their life-saving qualities are firmly established. However, all thermal cameras are not equal. Each model has its pros and cons, so it is important to make a well-informed buying decision. This is especially true given the critical, life saving role thermal cameras can play.

Developed for demanding firefighting applications

All FLIR’s K-Series models have been developed specifically to meet the demanding requirements of firefighting use.

Light weight

Firefighters already need to carry a lot of heavy equipment, so the K-Series only weighs 1.1 kg, including the battery.

Large display

The 4″ LCD display makes it easy to see thermal images under difficult conditions. This is not only useful for the firefighter holding the camera, but also for the firefighters around him.

Easy to use

K-Series cameras have only three large buttons, so its operation is very straightforward and the buttons are easy to manipulate, even when you’re wearing gloves.

Multiple image modes

K-Series cameras have five color modes that are optimized for various firefighting situations. Change from one mode to another with the touch of a button.

  • TI Basic mode: For initial fire attack and life-saving operations.
  • B/W fire fighting mode: Same as the TI Basic mode, but with a grey scale image.
  • Fire mode: For use in conditions with higher background
    temperatures, like structure fires, where there
    is already a lot of open flames.
  • Search & rescue mode: For use in conditions with lower temperatures, like outdoor search and rescue operations.
  • Heat detection mode: Used for finding and highlighting hot spots. The hottest 20% of the scene is coloured in red.


The K-Series’ “pistol grip” design is easy to hold onto, and simplifies operation for left- and right-handed users.


Users can easily customize K-Series cameras to meet the needs of their most common missions. You can even create your own start-up screen in the FLIR Tools software that comes with every K-Series.

In-Camera video storage (FLIR K55 only)

Being able to store video clips on an internal memory is important during firefighting training. Also real interventions can be recorded. Video clips can be evaluated afterwards for training purposes. FLIR K55 can store 200 files (images or video clips). It records up to 600 minutes in video in clips of maximum 5 minutes each.

Flexible Scene Enhancement (FLIR K55 only)

Details in the thermal image are enhanced through digital image processing inside the camera. The result is an ultra-sharp thermal image that shows more detail. FSX makes it easier for firefighters to find their way in smoke filled rooms. Even in scenes with extreme temperature dynamics that are typical for a firefighting environment.

Easy to upgrade

K-Series cameras can be upgraded over the internet by downloading the latest firmware updates, so users will never have to send their cameras back for routine upgrades.

Complete package

The FLIR K-Series thermal camera comes with everything you need to start using it immediately: two batteries, battery charger, a hard case, retractable and strap lanyard, neck strap, USB cable, FLIR Tools software, and a tripod adapter. The only accessory that doesn’t come as standard equipment is the truck charger.

K-Series batteries

You may think there is only one kind of lithium-ion battery, but there are actually many types of materials used, each of which impacts the battery’s performance. K-Series batteries use Lithium-Ion cells with the very latest NMC technology (Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide) for higher capacity than other Lithium-Ion batteries, and are produced with the greatest quality control by one of the world’s foremost battery manufacturers.

All cells are extensively tested to the UL1642 standard to verify their safety, including high-temperature testing, so you can rely on them to power your camera when you need it most.


Every K-Series camera is backed by a full 2-year warranty, but that’s only the start: the heart of the camera, the infrared detector, is covered by a full 10-year warranty.

Truck charger

This optional accessory is conveniently mounted inside a fire truck to charge the camera, along with a spare battery, so you’ll know your K-Series is always ready for action.

Was the K-Series developed for firefighters, or is it just a modified industrial camera?

The K-Series was developed from the ground up for firefighters, and in partnership with firefighters, around the world.

The K-Series is not simply an existing camera with a couple of new bits here and there and packaged as a firefighting camera. This is because firefighters have specific demands and operate in conditions that are unique from any industrial environment.

A firefighting camera needs to be resistant to high temperatures, water resistant, light weight, and easy to control with gloves on.

K-Series has IP-67 rating.

The IP code is a standardized two-digit rating that tells you how a product is protected against the intrusion of solids, shown by the first number, and liquids, shown by the second number. The higher the number, the better the protection. This tells you that the K-Series will stand up to the harsh environments it needs to operate in.

Dust Protected – Totally protected against dust ingress

Immersion Protected – Protected against short periods of immersion in water up to 1 meter deep.

Flame test:
We tortured the K-Series in flames, but it was worth it. The result is a camera that operates continually at temperatures between -20C and 85C (-2F to 185F) and can withstand exposure to as much as +260C (500F) for up to five minutes.

Drop test:
You shouldn’t have to worry about not dropping your thermal camera when you’re surrounded by fire. That’s why K-Series cameras are built to take a 2-meter drop (IEC 60068-2-31). Even onto concrete.

The K-Series delivers the performance, features, and toughness you can take with you into harm’s way every day.

With the FLIR K-Series you can see clearly through smoke. With the FLIR K-Series you can protect your own life while saving others.

For more information visit Flir Systems.

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