Insight Training: Firefighter Thermal Imaging Camera Training Using Max Fire Box

Andy Starnes of Insight Training provides firefighter thermal imaging camera training using a Max Fire Box and a FLIR thermal imaging camera. Using this flashover training device, Starnes shows how to forecast fire behavior and how to use a thermal imaging camera for firefighting decision making at a Interstate Rescue training in Bridgeport, WV.


My name is Andy Starnes. I’m the founder and owner of Insight Training, LLC. We are thermography-certified fire professionals that train firefighters, industrial and military personnel across the United States and internationally. Our world is basically thermal imaging and emergency services. We’re out here today at Bridgeport Fire Expo, and we’re working with the Performance Under Pressure cadre.

We are focusing on what we call the Tactical 360. The students are enhancing and learning their skills on search and search priority, fire attack, and locating and removing victims. What we’re about to do today is learn how to enhance our firefighter size up. A size up is a plan of what’s actually happening with a specific building. Firefighters are going to mitigate the emergency and stop that fire or locate and remove victims. Our students are going to focus on size up and how to use a thermal imaging camera for firefighting. We’re going to do a short fire behavior class outside. We’re going to share some information with them about size up.

We’re then going to break it down and go over the use of the Max Fire Box. It’s a wonderful flashover trainer. The box teaches fire behavior and thermal imaging. We can get temperatures inside the Max Fire Box up to 2,000 degrees to show the fire behavior. We show them many different things with the thermal imaging camera. The key attribute we can show them is how to overcome limitations.

When we’re done with that, we’re going to move into the actual 360s of the structure while they’re doing these scenarios with fire attack and search. The students are going to exercise their brain with us, and then, they’re going to exercise their body and skills with Performance Under Pressure.

Our goal is to create intelligently aggressive firefighters who can locate the fire faster, locate that victim faster and fulfill the mission of the fire service better than they have before. Our goal incorporates training and technology. We do not want them over-relying on technology but using it to aid them in these tasks.

The inside is cut to fit snugly. If you look in the back, we have seven long pieces of OSB and seven short pieces for a total of 14. That’s all that we’re going to start to burn in here. We are also going to put in a couple of pieces of carpet. I’m going to hand this one to Chief Starnes here.

He’s going to wet that one down. We talk about wetting everything down, any potential fuels. The fire crews did just that. They wetted everything down as they went in and prevented that carpet from off-gassing and heating up.

We’re going to see how that compares to the crew that didn’t. We have dry carpet here. I was taught not to wet everything down as I enter a room. I’m going to show you why that’s a bad idea. Furniture is made up of oak, redwood and cotton.

My grandma’s furniture is made of solidified petroleum. One chair is equivalent to five gallons of gasoline. A mattress is the equivalent of four megawatts of heat release rate, which is about 15 gallons of gasoline. You’re sleeping on that.

When you crawl through a living room, it has three pieces of furniture, an IKEA cabinet and a dog bed. When you don’t open the nozzle, don’t be surprised when the fire lights behind us. There’s 500 degrees at the ceiling and an open front door, which is a 7×3 ventilation opening. We gave the fire everything it needs to complete the fire triangle.

You are there to save lives and property. You’re crawling past property that is off-gassing and producing flammable vapors that are mixing and getting ready for ignition. There’s a victim on the floor begging for water, and we’re scared to death of steaming them. There are 600 to 1800 degrees of radiation coming down on them. There are 1,200 parts per million of carbon monoxide and 3,400 parts per million of hydrogen cyanide. Remember that 50 parts per million is fatal. Don’t worry about steam and property damage. You can steam someone and wash them out in the front yard; they will survive.

What we’ve come to realize though, is every one of these little firefighters we stick in here, burned just the same. Watch how this firefighter reacts over time to the fire. You’re going to notice that he starts to melt a lot sooner than we would realize. Pay attention to how the radiation energy coming off the fire in the back and the thermal level starts to affect him.

You can take your finger and push on that little firefighter, and he’ll collapse. Then the last thing we have here is some shredded political documents. We’re going to place this in the corner. I’m going to stack some up, but I’m also going to spread some out.

Think about the surface to mass ratio and how things burn. Watch as the thermal layer starts to come down, this shredded paper on the edge will disappear. The pile will stay for a while longer. With this thermal tool, you’re going to be able to see it before it happens. This gives you the chance to either prevent it or at least know when it is going to happen.

OSB is made of pressed wood and glue. Think about the video where they take the pole with water and dump it over a grease fire. Get some of that glue from an OSB factory, get a burn barrel and do the same thing with a pole. Watch what happens. Your whole house is wrapped in OSB or particleboard, it’s not made of hardwood. You are crawling in an environment that is loaded with fuel. It has all the heat and when we start popping windows and doors without giving it water, it’s going to go from a heavy turbulent, smoke, to ceiling flames. Watch the university of YouTube. You’ll see it every day. We’re good at it. We’ll pop the front door. We’ll take 35 to 40 minutes to get dressed at the front door, and then the house is on fire.

Our stage of growth in this Max Fire Box is currently percipient. A percipient stage of fire is anything smaller than you, like a wastebasket. We have no rollover. We’re not getting that heat transfer across the ceiling. It’s not going to move to other objects.

It’s confined to that corner. Look at this with your thermal imaging camera. It is going to be a lot hotter than it looks. You should be getting a low-sensitivity trigger on your cameras. That means 2% of whatever it’s picking up is over 300 degrees. Notice your positioning to the fire as well. If you’re further away you’re going to be getting a lower sensitivity. If you are closer to the front, you will be getting a different reading. Look at the coloring of the camera as well. There is going to be some red. When that red coloring gets closer to the ceiling, your thermal plane is rising. At that point, you can expect the ceiling to start burning very soon.

You can watch as the percipient fire starts to move into growth stage fire. As he closes that door, all of that smoke is being trapped in there. It’s absorbing the heat. Watch as that coloring goes from red to yellow.

That tells you the temperature went down significantly. It is about 1/3 of what it used to be. Look at the gases coming out of the box. We cannot read those gasses with this equipment because that is a different kind of thermography.

Every once in a while, you might catch it on your camera where some of the gases are changing color. That’s only because it has some carbon particles in it. The cameras are starting to read those but have masked them, so it’s still not accurate.

Many of us have walked right up to the front door, sat in front of the front door, looking in while putting your mask on. If you’re the second crew, you may walk up with your mask on, low on air and you stand in that front door, just trying to watch.

We want to eliminate those convection currents rolling out. You’re taking it all in that mask, and we want to eliminate that. You’re not only taking the mask, but you’re also taking it in the lungs too. When you’re wearing your turnout gear, you have six layers of protection around your goodies here. You only have one layer around your brain with your mask and your hood.

They spent $12 on that piece of plastic on your mask. It’s around your face, and about two to three millimeters thick. It softens at 290 degrees Fahrenheit with ultimate failure between 350 and 600, depending on the mask. Our bunker gear takes almost 1300 degrees, but our facemask can only take 300. You need to pay attention to that. Without your facemask, you become the victim, not the rescuer.

Look at our little firefighter in the box. He is starting to become soft because he is absorbing a lot of that thermal energy. Think about live-burn training. When you stand in a live-burn room for an extended period of time, you are absorbing a lot of that thermal energy.

I’m going to close this now and extinguish the flame. Look at how much heat is still in there despite the fact that there is no flame. Often times that is what you are crawling under. Look at how easy this is to reignite. This is why we need to cool everything, even if it’s not burning.

The reason we were taught not to cool it is because in the 1950s, firefighters had no SCBA. When they were crawling down the hallway, they wanted a bi-directional flow. They wanted clean air at the bottom and smoke up top. There is an eagle on your helmet because they would take it off and break the window. They would stick their heads out and take a deep breath. That’s where the term smoke diver comes from.

You don’t need that anymore. You have an air pack. We want to cool it because smoke is basically incomplete combustion. Look at the floor with your camera. It is red. Don’t worry too much about exact measurements. Just now our wet carpet is starting to disappear, and our firefighter is gone.

Right now, I am cooling the door. However, you have to check your pattern before you go into the fire. Now I have some type of insulation or a gap around every door to keep your heated air in.

When you do that, it creates negative pressure. It sucks in that moisture, and it cools the door. When you open it, those gases hit moisture. That gives you time to make that assessment. They taught you this in their live fire and layout.

You open it and you get a huge plume of fire, we call that firefighter-induced flashover. You may know that it is coming, but you need a few seconds to make that assessment. When you create that negative pressure, you gave yourself that few seconds.

While we’re waiting on this to build up, take a look at the sides of the Max Fire Box. Read the spot temperature on the diamond plating. We get it to 2000 degrees at the end. So that right there is hot enough to melt the bed liner in my Ford F-150.

We are going to get the box hot again. He has covered the main points of field for you. You should see a difference when you turn the camera sideways. I need all of you to go stand back by that Dodge Ram.

Turn around and line up, side by side where you can look at somebody’s camera. Your camera should be on low sensitivity mode, and you should be able to see my hand. Come forward about eight feet, and then look again.

The resolution standard per NFP 1801 says that a firefighter shall be able to identify a small child’s hand at 15 feet, a small child’s hand being a three-year-old. As you come closer, my hand will get clearer. Come up about five more feet.

Imagine you’re at a door looking into a room. You’re conducting an oriented search. Can you see my hand? What color is my hand?  It should be gray. What color is my hand over here? Is it white or is it black over here? The front of my hand never changed temperature.

The further away you are, even with a good camera, the less effective you are. You couldn’t see my hand way back here at that Dodge truck. Think about what you are trying to see and think about the context of what’s burning.

If you crawl into a CrossFit gym and there are mats and tires burning, you are only going to see nasty optically thick smoke. Good luck using a camera in there. If you go into a warehouse that has a bunch of pallets burning and they’ve got eight sprinkler heads going, the camera is not going to be useful.

Water is the arch-enemy of this camera. Every time you use this, you want to wipe that lens. If you don’t, you will only see a white screen. Just a minute ago, all you could see down here was black. The bulk of our flame is on the exterior, by the door. That is because the opening is our ventilation point. That is where the fuel to air mixture is a little better.

You’re doing your 360 and there are a bunch of flames blown out of one, two or three windows. That does not mean there are a lot of flames in the rest of that room. It could be just the windows that are on fire.

If I have flames coming out of one window and thick black turbulent smoke coming out of another window next to it, I can expect the smokey window to light on fire soon. There’s that forecasting coming in. Next, we are going to do an ignition point.

If you have a cell phone, I encourage you to take a slow-motion video of this. We’re going to show you the power of smoke and why it’s flammable. I am going to close this up and look at the edge. Notice that nothing is burning. However, if I get that door hot, notice that the smoke is catching on fire and immediately re-igniting the inside room.

Those of you who have the decision-making cameras, stand on either that side or this side, and look in the lower portion of the box and tell me what you see on the side of the walls. You should see alligatoring and charring. What kind of fire produces that kind of damage? You’re crawling down the hallway and your camera has image enhancement, which allows you to see that nasty smoke. That is vent point ignition. You should expect a lot of heat, which means that smoke will catch on fire very soon. Just because you don’t see anything visibly does not mean there’s not heat.

That’s why we use that slow-motion feature because you can go back and show some guys and gals what you just saw. Now we’re going to play with a squirt bottle, so you’re going to get dual nozzle time. You’re going to get nozzle over there and a little bit of nozzle over here. Let’s talk them through enhanced stream placement.

We need to have control and direction with our stream. You are going to get some contrast with that camera. With that, you should be able to tell them where to place that water and where the seed of the fire is.

I’m going to close this. When I open it up, you’re going to see a lot of heat. You are going to see that color go away. That’s what we call painting or erasing the heat. Some of my educated brothers and sisters overseas have some interesting theoretical discussions about fire and heat. They’re correct in the classroom.

The problem is, when I say the word erasing the heat, we’re not really erasing all of it. We’re erasing the surface temperatures but think about what’s burning. The surfaces heat up and produce gases that burn. If we cool the surfaces and the gases in there, we are taking care of the problem. There’s no perfect solution to this, but we’re giving you the ability to direct that stream instead of taking educated guesses.

One person is going to be the sniper, and one person is going to be the spotter. Then you repeat the process, and you go room to room. You can see the difference that this squirt bottle makes. Imagine now you are putting 150 gallons per minute on that fire. You’re going to be able to see that water hit the wall. Let’s caution you on something really quick. This camera is not connected to you. If you are not careful and your camera gets hit by the hose, it is going to disappear. You want to show him, tell him, and then get out of his or her way.

Don’t forget to wipe your lens either. When that water turns into steam, you are not going to be able to see anything out of your camera. Whenever you wipe your facemask, wipe your lens too.

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