An infrared digital camera or thermal imaging camera uses infrared radiation to enhance visibility in various situations. Thermal imagers have proven to play a vital role in firefighting since they allow firefighters to see through smoke, darkness or heat-permeable barriers. A large component of smoke is micron-sized carbon soot particles. This makes it absorbing to visible light. Since the particle size is considerably smaller that the wavelength of the light of the infrared digital camera, the reduced scattering enables firefighters to see through smoke.
This tool has substantially increased the effectiveness as well as safety of the firefighters. Infrared digital cameras assist in locating the victims, navigation through absolute dark smoke filed buildings, spotting indications of flash-overs, establishing the area were the fire started and attacking it, and detecting any impending hot spots after extinguishing the fire. Thermal imagers even identify temperature differences of objects which is extremely vital in cases where firefighters have to open doors or venture into unknown territory that often lead to fires.
Infrared digital cameras can be integrated with infrared software for the purpose of documentation in insurance claims as well as firefighting performance matrixes.
Most thermal imaging cameras today are handheld or mounted on the helmets. They are designed to operate flawlessly in extreme environments where temperatures sore anywhere between 150 degrees Celsius to 500 degrees Celsius, and also built to sustain the harsh possibilities of being dragged, dropped, or scorched. Since firefighting involved using thermal imaging to navigate through dark areas and also arriving at the heart of a raging blaze within moments, the infrared digital cameras are highly sensitive to thermal contrast in fractions of a degree. The scene range demands exceptional image processing capabilities to capture and display effective information. A quintessential firefighter is approximately wearing 50 lbs of gear excluding the axe, hose and a possible injured victim. An ideal thermal imaging camera is designed ergonomically keeping in mind the size and weight of the equipment.
In spite of the fact that infrared digital cameras are a life saving equipment, thermal imaging is considered a luxury as against helmets, turnouts, hoses, vehicles and self contained breathing apparatuses. They were usually assigned only to the Rapid Intervention Teams that are responsible to reach and free trapped firefighters. This scenario changed tremendously after the September 11 attacks and the following issue of equipment grants for firefighters by the government.