Thermal imaging cameras from FLIR Systems are helping the Beveren fire department in Belgium locate hotspots and missing subjects more easily. FLIR thermal cameras are preferred by the firemen for their affordability, light weight and user-friendliness.

The appropriate firefighting equipment can be critical for a fireman, for his own survival as well as for saving the lives of others. To ensure the safety of its crew and to deliver even better firefighting services, the firefighting department of Beveren, Belgium invested in a FLIR K50 thermal imaging camera.

Beveren is a municipality located in the Belgian province of East Flanders, very close to the city of Antwerp. The port of Waasland is also located in Beveren, on the left bank of the river Scheldt, facing the port of Antwerp on the other side of the river.

The Beveren-Waasland fire department is responsible for the fire safety of a number of municipalities in the vicinity of Beveren, and for the Waasland port, which houses a number of high-risk companies that produce or make use of chemical or toxic materials. The Beveren firefighting team includes 40 professional firemen, three officers and more than 50 voluntary firemen.

Given the high-risk areas of the Waasland port under its care, the Beveren fire department has always used advanced technology to support its team. Thermal imaging cameras have been part of the department’s equipment for many years with a specific type of camera system comprising of a PTZ camera and a FLIR thermal camera that can be mounted on the fire truck.

Corporal StefaanTerryn of the Beveren team said the system has always helped to give them an extra pair of eyes. The PTZ system is used to monitor the situation for possible hotspots on site and send the video images to a crisis room through a wireless link, enabling the local authorities to assess the situation on site from a distance and take the appropriate measures when necessary.

While the PTZ system is chiefly used for mounting on a fire truck, the Beveren fire department also makes use of handheld thermal imaging technology from FLIR. The department had purchased a FLIR K50 point-and-shoot camera for firefighting applications in 2013.

According to Corporal StefaanTerryn, the thermal camera is very useful in a wide range of applications including detecting hotspots in a drop ceiling during chimney fires, or see temperature changes resulting from all kinds of chemical reactions in containers. A thermal imaging camera is mostly used in progressive points in time, enabling the department to observe the evolution of a fire.

The thermal imaging camera is located in the firefighting truck and is mostly used for revision of fire-fighting activities, ensuring all fires are extinguished effectively.

The FLIR K50 camera also finds application in carrying out a targeted search for missing persons. To this end, the FLIR K50 has a dedicated colour palette (SAR mode) to assist firefighting professionals locate subjects more easily.

Corporal StefaanTerryn added that the camera also helps them see dangerous situations without the need to enter a specific area. A recent application was in a fire incident when they had to attack a fire in the engine room of a ship in the Waasland port.

FLIR K-Series thermal imaging cameras

Developed for some of the most demanding firefighting tasks, FLIR K-Series thermal imaging cameras feature a maintenance-free uncooled microbolometer sensor that produces clear and detail rich images of 240 x 180 pixels (FLIR K40) or 320 x 240 pixels (FLIR K50). Thermal images are presented on a large bright 4” display, helping firefighters navigate through a fire and make quick and accurate decisions. The K-Series is designed to meet tough operating conditions, can survive a 2m drop on a concrete floor, and is water resistant (IP67) and fully operational up to +85°C.

FLIR K-Series thermal imaging cameras come with five imaging options that let the user shift thermal sensitivity and effective temperature range modes to help speed up tactical decisions and the search for survivors. These include the TI Basic mode for initial size-up of fire scene and fire attack; Grayscale mode similar to TI Basic mode but without colorization; Fire mode for improved sensitivity in high scene temperatures; SAR mode for optimised palette to assist in locating subjects; and Heat detection mode wherein hottest spots are colorized only to assist during overhaul.

According to Corporal StefaanTerryn they chose the FLIR K50 model because of reasons such as a great price-quality ratio, lightweight design allowing easy handling especially when carrying heavy firefighting equipment, and the point-and-shoot operation that simplified use.