BUCKHANNON — Thermal imaging cameras are an asset that can help firefighters on scene more efficiently and safely combat a structure fire and rescue victims and prevent further loss of property.
On Saturday, the Upshur County Firefighters Association sponsored instructor Andy Starnes from Project Kill the Flashover for an all-day class on tactical thermal imaging camera use.
The classroom and practical portions of the class were held at the Buckhannon Fire Department and attracted firefighters from across the county and a few from nearby counties.
Starnes said he first wants firefighters taking his classes to understand why what they are learning is important and how it can relate to them.
“There are lots of classes out there saying ‘you need this tactic or this concept,’ but very few times are they related to their world and say ‘this is why it is important,’” Starnes said.
Lt. Joey Baxa with the Buckhannon Fire Department has become a member of Project KTF and realized that what he was learning could work with the BFD’s combination career and volunteer department and with the other volunteer fire departments in the county.
“One of the things we brought back is the tactics are good for our manpower,” he said. “The tactics are safe and they serve our citizens well. It’s just proper application and trusting them. What [Starnes] is showing us is how these tactics are working.”
Starnes said that not every department can have 26 firefighters in a working structure fire and noted that most fire departments in the United States are combination volunteer and career fire departments with minimal staffing.
Baxa pointed out that sometimes only two or three firefighters from Buckhannon are first on scene.
And Starnes said that is where Project KTF can help.
“Not only do they have to be better, they have to be more efficient and they have to use their resources wisely,” he said. “Kill the Flashover’s focus is departments like here in Buckhannon.”
Saturday’s class on thermal imaging cameras also included discussion on fire behavior.
“We spent about an hour just getting them to understand temperature and heat and how that affects their gear, how that affects the victim and how that affects fire behavior,” Starnes said.
And while thermal imaging cameras are an asset — they can also be wrong.
“We spent some time talking about what it won’t do and how you can get in trouble with it,” he said. “It is technology and technology will fail.”
The afternoon portion of the class was focused on practical application and how firefighters can put the lessons they learned in the classroom to work in their world,” he said.
BFD chief Jim Townsend said, “It’s an excellent chance for us to use our equipment under small fire conditions and learn a lot more about the capabilities of the thermal imaging cameras.”
The BFD has three thermal imaging cameras to use in its department.
Baxa said, “This is probably one of the greatest technological advances we have had in the fire service in the last two decades. The citizens pay for these tools to be used. Unfortunately, they are very expensive. They are probably the least acquired because of other things we have to purchase. It’s important not only that we have them but that we know how to use them.”
The two newest career firefighters at the BFD also took part in the training along with some more experienced members.
Tanner Smith said he thought the class was valuable because “It’s real-life training in a very controlled situation.”
John Brugnoli agreed.
“It’s more in-depth than what you would get at a regular classroom training. You actually get to see the heat and how it reacts with closing the air off to it.”
And both firefighters said the lessons learned will help them in real-life scenarios.
Brugnoli said, “It makes everything safer with the tips you can use. You don’t have to enter the building at some points to do a full interior assessment.”
Smith added, “It lets you build situational awareness.”
Washington District Volunteer Fire Company chief Kevin Huffman was able to attend the class with chaplain Brandon Daft. He said they would be taking what they learned back to the rest of the members who were unable to attend.
Huffman’s fire company has one thermal imaging camera and he said he thought the class was beneficial in teaching more about the capabilities of the cameras.
“It opened my eyes to the dangers you don’t think about,” he said. “Like [Starnes] said in the classroom, you know there is heat there but with the gear on, you don’t realize how much heat there actually is and the camera will help determine that.”
And those are some of the lessons that Starnes hopes his class members took away from Saturday’s evidence-based training.
“If they can’t get in the truck and use it, it’s not that good to them,” Starnes said. “My goal is for them to have at least four points that they can use in their size-up, in determining their access point, to more efficiently extinguish the fire faster and find the victim faster. Those are all wins.
“That’s all things they do on the fire ground any way and now we are just saying you can do it faster, you can do it better and you can do it safer. That’s our goal is to prevent thermal injuries and deaths to firefighters and to make it better for our citizens. If the firefighters do their jobs better, it’s better for the citizens in saving victims and property.”