A thermal imaging camera renders infrared radiation as visible light. The cameras pick up body heat and allow people to be located in smoky, dark or extremely hot places. Firefighters use the cameras to quickly locate the source the fire in a structure or to find people who are visually obscured. Thermal imaging cameras can also be used find victims outdoors on cool, foggy nights, detect smoldering fires in a wall, look through heat-permeable barriers or even spot overheating electrical wiring before they cause a fire. These cameras have become an indispensable tool for firefighters worldwide.
A Thermal Imaging Camera has five basic parts. They are a detector, a signal processor, an optic system, an amplifier and a display. When the cameras are designed for use in fighting fires the components are housed in a rugged fireproof, waterproof case. The thermal imaging camera uses different colors to show the differing temperatures of the object at which they are aimed. Objects which are the same temperature a shown in the same color while extremely hot object or surfaces are shown in different colors. This allows firefighter to peer into a raging fire and identify where victims are located.
The cameras a relatively expensive but are a worthwhile investment. They were indispensable to rescue workers searching for survivors in the World Trade Center after the attack on September 11, 2001. After the great role they played in helping to locate victims and save lives after this tragedy, many fire departments around the world decided to invest in them. Since that time the cameras have played a vital role in saving many lives. Their specially designed housing allows them to continue to work even in the presence of great heat or when they get wet.
Firefighters carry the thermal imaging cameras in two different ways. Some of the cameras are designed to be hand held. The firefighter points it in the direction where they suspect victims or the source of the fire may be and the camera indicates the temperature of the objects in that direction on the screen. Using it in this manner requires the use of two hands. To free up their hands some firefighter use a helmet mounted thermal imaging camera. With those all the rescue worker has to do is look in a particular direction and the colors of the objects there are displayed on the screen.
Thermal imaging technology has been in use for some time. Cost has been a factor which has limited its use. A good thermal imaging camera can cost in excess of $15,000.