Mark your calendars for Jan. 27th & 28th, 2024. The 99th Annual Iowa State Fire School registration is open! Everyone reading is encouraged to take a moment to peruse the impressive lineup of classes organized by the Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau (IFSTB). Anyone who’s attended in the past will tell you, going to training outside your department is more than just improving your skill set; it's an invaluable chance to connect with fellow fire-fighters who share your dedication and enthusiasm. In this month’s training column, I’m excited to share the valuable insights acquired from a recent training I attended outside my department.
On Sept. 2nd the Des Moines Area Metro F.O.O.L.S. held their 2023 Conference. I was fortunate enough to secure a spot in the sold out class: Tactical TIC taught by Andy Starnes, owner of Insight Training. After reflecting on the knowledge gained throughout that day, this column was written to share the five most significant takeaways, and then explain how these takeaways can be incorporated into department trainings to enhance operational effectiveness.
Take Home Point #1 - Know Your TIC
Every TIC is different, and to get the most out of your TIC, you must become intimately familiar with its specifications. Start by diving into the owner’s manual. Yes, it is a dry read, but the knowledge gained is invaluable. As you read, ask yourself questions like:
What temperature triggers yellow, orange, and red on the screen? Some TICs like the FLIR 55 will begin colorization at temperatures greater than 300o, while others, like the MSA Evolution 6000 will begin to colorize at temperatures greater 270o in high sensitivity, but in low sensitivity colorization won’t be seen until 999o.
When will the image switch from High to Low sensitivity? Again, this will vary depending on the TIC, but every TIC’s image will temporarily freeze when switching from high to low sensitivity. Additionally, a green triangle will appear on the screen to indicate the TIC is in low sensitivity.
Take Home Point #2 –
High vs. Low Sensitivity
Per NFPA 1801, the recommended color palette for firefighting is called TI Basic, which is the mode all NFPA compliant TICs are in upon initial start-up. A fire service TIC in TI Basic mode has such a high temperature range that it cannot see all the temperatures at once. Because of this, manufacturers break up the temperature range into High Sensitivity and Low Sensitivity, so that the TIC temperature ranges can be effectively “seen.” Think of the TIC’s aperture like the human eye; it reacts to heat akin to how your pupil responds to light. In intense heat, it “constricts” to prevent saturation or “white out” caused by excessive heat entering the detector.
The TIC operator must understand that high sensitivity equates to generally lower temperatures (typically under 300 degrees) and allows for more detail in the image for better decision making, while low sensitivity indicates high heat conditions and the image loses detail. Video: tinyurl.com/2p2u45b4
Take Home Point #3 –
Scan Low First
Traditionally, firefighters were taught the “six sided scan” which had the user start their scan by assessing the ceiling, where the greatest thermal threat is located. Instructor Starnes advocated for a different approach: begin by scanning low. Why? The lower third of the atmosphere is the coolest, allowing your camera to maintain high sensitivity and provide a clearer image for victim detection and environment layout assessment. Only after scanning low should you move to the upper part of the environment. During this scan of the upper portion of the environment, the TIC will have a higher likelihood of switching to low sensitivity. If at any time the TIC freezes and switches to low sensitivity, pause and allow the image to catch-up before continuing the scan. Video: tinyurl.com/2w9n2k9x
Take Home Point #4 –
Keep It Clean
Just like your SCBA mask fogging up in a fire, TIC lenses can become obscured. Furthermore, the TIC lens tends to collect debris as you work inside a structure. Therefore, make it a habit to wipe the lens before every scan. A clear lens means a clearer image. Video: tinyurl.com/5n8tkayx
Take Home Point #5 –
Interpret the Whole Image
As of 2021, NFPA 1801 has removed the spot temperature from TI Basic. Firefighters shouldn’t overly rely on spot temperature readings; instead, focus on interpreting the entire image. The spot temperature is a measurement of 3-5 pixels and NOT the entire image. Spot temperatures are dependent on a number of variables (emissivity, distance, and atmospheric conditions) making it less reliable in a chaotic IDLH environment. Look at the spot temperature reading in the pictures of the Max Fire Box. Due to the emissivity of the diamond plate that’s on the exterior of the box, the spot temperature reads significantly less than inside the box. This concept can be illustrated in the firehouse by boiling water in a large reflective metal pot.
So how can firefighters utilize the TIC to understand the thermal conditions within a structure? First, under-standing when your TIC colorizes is crucial. However, remember that TICs detect surface temperatures and cannot gauge gas temperatures. This means that the absence of color doesn’t necessarily indicate an absence of heat. Because of this, firefighters must recognize convection currents. Convection currents flow from areas of high pressure (seat of the fire) to areas of low pressure (eg. ventilation openings). These currents indicate the location of the fire, identify the flow path, as well as, suggest the severity of the fire by the speed at which they are moving. Since convection currents are extremely hot, they should be aggressively cooled by the fire attack team or isolated by the search team to limit fire growth or spread. Video: tinyurl.com/53j73dc8
The best way to learn these TIC skills is through hands-on training, especially in live fire drills. For those with access to live fire facilities, incorporating your TIC into live fire training is essential. However, even if you don’t have the luxury of a live fire training building, utilizing miniature doll houses constructed from OSB that are often used for demonstrating fire behavior, can also be used for TIC training. These demonstrat-ions do a great job of illustrating image colori-zation, identifying convection currents, and showing the switch from high to low sensitivity with your department’s TIC.
Upon completion the firefighter should be able to….
• Understand when their TIC will colorize.
• Recognize when their TIC switches from high to low sensitivity.
• Identify convection currents using a TIC.
• Efficiently scan their environment for life, fire, layout utilizing a TIC.
Cole Kleinwolterink is a member of the Waukee Fire Department, Granger Fire Department, and a Fire Science instructor at Des Moines Area Community College. He can be contacted by email at kleinwolterinkc@