When scanning with a thermal imaging camera (TIC), firefighters should be aware of two things they are sure to come across at some point, temperature stable environments and saturation. These events can make it difficult for firefighters to interpret the images being displayed on the TIC screen..
A temperature stable environment is when all of the objects in a room are registering at about the same temperature. Your TIC displays differences in temperatures by using grayscale colors (black, white & grey). When temperatures in an environment stabilize, everything on the screen will appear to be grey. This makes distinguishing between the objects (or victim) in the room difficult. Unless firefighters can introduce some change or difference of temperature into the environment, traditional search techniques should be employed to properly search the environment.
Saturation occurs when a TIC is exposed to more heat than it can measure. Objects viewed on the screen may begin to appear cloudy or the screen may begin to display almost all white. This is a warning sign that the environment is becoming unsafe. You may be experiencing pre-flashover conditions as the entire environment has become superheated. Search and attack crews should retreat to a safer area or operate the handline to cool down the environment.
Be aware of these types of events when using your TIC. Understanding what you are seeing on your display screen can mean the difference between making or missing a rescue and the safety of your crew.