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The testing and evaluation process for any equipment is always quite thorough. However, when it comes to a tool as complex as a thermal imager, the Test & Evaluation (T&E) plan should be exceptionally well planned. Departments or committees typically develop a written testing plan that includes evaluations focused on the following:
- Image quality
- Durability in heat, cold, and water
- Ease of use
- Performance in a live burn
In addition to these testing areas, some departments are bringing innovative ideas to their T&E practices for thermal imagers. Check out some of the ideas below.
Great for Station Evaluations. Using online tools (even pre-existing ones, such as Survey Monkey), many individuals across multiple shifts can quickly and easily provide feedback after runs with the imager. This online feedback makes data collection, recording, and analysis quick and easy. Surveys can be set up to give options for rating or ranking various qualities, providing multiple choice answers, and typing in custom feedback or comments.
Great Test for Alternate TI Uses. Thermal imagers are frequently tested in live burns. However, they can also be used in hazmat operations. One way to test thermal imagers for hazmat operations is to evaluate the detection of vapors being released from a pressurized container, such as a propane cylinder. In addition, these cameras can be tested as they detect the level of liquid within certain containers (for example, identifying the level of liquid within a drum barrel.) These tests can be performed at various distances.
Outside the Box Involvement
Great for Comprehensive Evaluations. It’s obvious that your evaluation will include the evaluation committee members and other firefighters. However, other key decision-makers can benefit from seeing the thermal imagers’ performance and differences first hand. These key decision-makers can include the purchasing department, trainers, and equipment maintenance manager. They can provide insight and understanding from a unique angle that can positively affect your department’s decision making.
Multiple Types of Burn Tests
Great for Understanding Imager Performance. It’s typical to take a test imager to a live burn or on a few real-life runs. However, departments get a better understanding of how an imager may switch gain modes (sensitivity modes), show human figures,
or display colorization when exposed to various environments. Top departments are not only evaluating thermal imagers during basic evolutions in a one-day burn. They are also testing them in their academy with live fire, comparing performance with a flashover simulator, and performing basic laboratory testing (drop tests, oven tests, freeze tests, and submersion tests). In addition to these burn tests, evaluations for ergonomics, simplicity, and ease of use, especially when in use with gloves and full turnout gear, can provide a complete picture of how the imager will perform for your department.
When Live Burns Aren’t an Option
In some instances, conducting a live burn for TI evaluation isn’t feasible. With local and federal restrictions, these types of burns are becoming more and more dif cult for many departments. However, it’s still important to see how each thermal imager performs in the presence of a heat source. Innovative ideas for testing this include using other heat sources, like a hot stove, barrel fires, or even asking the manufacturers for videos of actual burns.