Come to think of it, the greatest role a thermal camera can don is not in putting out fires, as accustomed, but in preventing them. Indubitably, traditional wisdom will tell us the recent fire that razed France’s most famous 850-year-old cathedral, the Notre-Dame de Paris (“Our Lady of Paris”) is a prime example where thermal imaging would be most useful. In reining it all in. And yet, a closer look reveals there’s more to IR imaging tech than just meets the eye. What many - a handful of experts including - have failed to realize and what a dedicated consumer aptly pointed out to us is that thermal cameras should be fire prevention tools. First and foremost.
Truth be told, the consumer is right. If we make the most out of the thermal technology’s uncanny ability to detect heat emissions, then we would be able to neutralize fires before they blow up in our faces. Just like the recent Paris fire did. Such thinking would certainly be a timely paradigm shift. Imagine how many more lives will be saved if we prevent fires from scaling up - eating the treasures we cherish and leaving wooden ashes and charred remains in its wake. The recent Paris fire is no joke. It gobbled up millions of francs and threatened to erase from the face of the Earth a most iconic global structure that stood since the 13th century. It may have survived wars, the French Revolution, and Napoleon but the Catholic cathedral, finest example of French Gothic architecture which took a century to construct, stood helpless in April - destroyed in less than a day. In a fire that could have been prevented.
Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral: A Sitting Time Bomb
Like many of man’s most daring structures, the cathedral of the Notre-Dame of Paris had its vulnerabilities. People knew it. The government of French President Macron knew it too. In fact, the authorities took all the steps to ensure it was fire-proof.
Since 2018, the Paris Fire Brigade had their regular drills there. We’re talking about on-site exercises that should keep everyone ready for any untoward incident. So tight was the security around the cathedral that one firefighter was posted to the church daily. To add all that, fire wardens made their rounds to check conditions under the roof three times a day. Yes, three times a day.
For this is no ordinary structure for the faithful. We’re talking about a church that was initially constructed in 1160 and officially completed in 1260 - a century later. That makes this Catholic church not only older than any living human on the planet today, but one that is also entwined to the rich history of the French people. To the very core.
So much that the church is like the treasure-box of the nation - housing centuries-old works of art that are as priceless and sought-after as can be. And so much that as a widely-recognized symbol of the French nation, it is the most visited structure in Paris, attracting approximately 12 million visits yearly.
However, appearances can be deceiving. All the grandeur and the beauty - of flying buttresses and jaw-dropping architecture - is weakening, facing the wrath of Father Time.
And none more so than the cathedral’s roof and spire, both made of wood - of 13th-century oak to be exact. A setup that needed due attention. But the right attention. For even when repairs were due, authorities had to make sure repair teams toe the line and proceed with caution so that no sparks or short-circuits could ensue. Any hasty move could turn everything into ashes. Just like that.
But, despite all that, the 15th of April, 2019 had other plans. The fire erupted shaking a nation and leaving the world in suspended animation. And true enough, it was from the wooden roof, the structures most vulnerable, where flames started.
So massive was the fire that even with 500 hundred firefighters working together (400 engaged and 100 putting precious objects to safety) working with drones and even with all the water from the Seine River pumped by boats, it took 15 hours for the fire to be declared under control.
In the end, the damage was done. Picking the tab, the French President Macron had to raise over €1 billion in pledges to get reconstruction efforts secured. To note, the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris is owned by the state and not the church.
What Makes a Thermal Camera Way Better than a Smoke Alarm
Prevention is, of course, the name of the game in firefighting. While it’s true, thermal imaging was used by firefighters in containing the fire in that recent Paris fire, the act was akin to fighting a colossus. Thermal imaging could have done more. It could have nipped a monster in the bud.
The rationale is simple. While smoke detectors and smoke alarms are vital to fire prevention, these devices are severely limited. Why? Simply because by the time these devices are set off, the combustion process as manifested by smoke is already started. Usually, that lead time could be enough for the spark to spread and turn into one flaming inferno.
By which time it will already be too late. As the recent church structure fire showed.
On the other hand, thermal cameras can detect changes in the temperature in materials being observed. This gives a tremendous advantage to fire prevention. With the right thermal imaging, one can get notified when temperatures rise sharply before any combustion even begins.
The smoke detector needs smoke to send a signal for the fire alarm to activate an audible warning. A thermal imaging system needs just spikes in the temperature for it to trigger an alarm. Even better, there are thermal cameras which can be configured with an auto-monitor alarm, notifying you when small increases in temperature happen (detailed by one avid consumer in the segments below)
Other unique advantages of thermal cameras in fire prevention includes:
- Deter spontaneous combustion
A lot of businesses carry a greater risk of fire due mainly to the congregation of highly-combustible materials that when held for a long period of time can bring about higher-than-normal levels of heat. Composting facilities and construction sites are classic examples. With thermal camera monitoring, spontaneous combustion can be avoided as increases in heat levels can be easily detected.
- To monitor open-flame scenarios
As part of their normal day-to-day operations, restaurants constantly deal with the fire. However, temperatures of these fires are within manageable levels. Putting a thermal camera to monitor open flames ensures the heat don’t go beyond what’s normally acceptable. This could happen when cooking equipment malfunction or cooks leave cooking unattended. The important thing is you get notified as soon as the heat goes beyond what’s safe allowing you to contain a disaster before it happens.
- To monitor hard-to-reach areas
There are key areas in a business operation that may be difficult to reach by nature and hence, difficult to monitor. Worse, these components present a possible fire risk. A concrete example is furnaces. With a thermal camera, you can be notified whenever a heat increase that’s beyond what’s normal happens.
Countdown to a Global Disaster
When you talk about erupting fires, you talk about seconds and minutes, not days. Fact is, in such an accident-prone scenario, lives can be lost in matters of seconds.
Time is even more essential in fire-prone areas where a spark can turn into a blaze in a matter of minutes. A quick look into the post-incident investigation into the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire is revealing.
Records show that at 18:20 on the day of the fire, the fire alarm sounded prompting guards to evacuate the church in a matter of minutes. One guard even climbed to the space beneath the roof but found nothing suspicious.
Minutes later, at 18:43 the alarm went off again. That’s 23 minutes from the time the first alarm sounded. This time, flames were found by two guards who investigated.
At 18:51, after all the commotion, a call was made to the firefighters who arrived 10 minutes later. By this time, it had become an uphill climb for everyone. It will take but one hour for the roof and spire to collapse, fully surrounded by the raging inferno. No small task considering the spire is composed of 250 tons lead and 500 tons of wood.
You see, the fight was one-sided right from the get-go. First up, it took some time for guards to see where the problem really was. Secondly, it took some time for the firemen to respond as the alarm system was not configured to give notice to the fire brigade automatically.
The advantages of thermal imaging cameras in fire prevention are plenty. For one, it can be utilized to scan a wide area in a building or monitor vital equipment pieces. The most important thing is it can detect temperature changes reducing the risk of fire in the process.
Consumer Review: IR0280, Perfect Protection vs Fire
It is in the subject of fire protection that one thermal camera product has caught the eye of a consumer. We’re talking about PerfectPrime’s IR0280.
Strictly speaking, the IR0280 may not be the cream of the crop in the world of thermal imaging systems; but as the techie consumer points out, it’s a perfect tool in fire prevention. And true enough, the case of how powerful this IR camera is unfolded. In stunning detail. Complete with all the thermal imagery.
The IR0280 does not lead the charge for the PerfectPrime brand. In terms of thermal image quality, the IR0005, long noted as the company’s flagship product, trumps it. Those initial observations were arrived at by the consumer in his DIY experimentation. Further, he found out that even with the help of free astronomy software REGISTAX6 which was able to ‘significantly improve’ signal-to-noise ratio, the IR0280 still lags behind in thermal resolution.
That’s understandable given that IR0280 just have a 32 x 32 resolution amounting to a 1024-pixel quality. Consequently, the IR0005 boasts of 35,200-pixel thermal image quality, a great improvement on-screen and in actual tests. That’s like comparing the vision of a one-eyed cyclops to a full-visioned young man.
But it’s in the issue of fire prevention that the genius in the IR0280 truly shines. This is made apparent in the speed in detecting thermal anomalies. Quite simply, it displayed ‘extremely fast detection’ even faster than its more powerful brother. Such a feature is most useful in instances of maintenance intervention where a latent fire is common. Scenarios like these include:
- HVAC inspections
- Electronic assembly
- Electrical box intervention
Then, it gets even more interesting. You see, with its ability to detect small temperature changes, the IR0280 has a very powerful auto-monitor alarm. This proceeds to obtain a successive regular snapshot of any scene you want it to monitor. Also, the Hi-Low temperature alarm is most useful as it notifies you when certain preset temperatures are achieved.
Auto monitor alarm
Even better, the IR0280 has video recording making it a lot easier to put into the record the events in a fire. All these come at very light 6.4 ounces (lighter than iPhone XR) with a gun grip for easy tracking and a touchscreen for seamless controls. Further, when you need to look into your files, be it in pictures or in the video, you can save data in CSV format making it easy to grapple with in Excel.
Moreso, that IR0280 is operating on Android, Google’s most widespread operating system for smartphones.
This is no low-intelligence machine too. As the user commented, it’s like having “hundreds of very accurate thermometer” at your disposal. That’s because you have radiometric data in the IR0280. Meaning, you can analyze each individual pixel for temperature changes. Each individual pixel. That certainly makes it post-fire event image analysis more accurate.
But what really blows the competition out of the water with this PerfectPrime offering is its price. Yes, price. You have a very powerful thermal camera that’s built-for-the-fire sold at extremely low cost. Without a doubt. It’s a steal.
A Simple Test for a Thermal Camera Fire Prevention Feature
To test how effective at detecting fire risk is simple. All we have to do is see how fast a thermal camera can detect temperature changes.
For a successful experiment, There are three parameters that we must carefully take into account:
The temperature must be the ‘high’ temperature we want our thermal camera specimens to detect. The distance is how far will the thermal device be able to detect it at how fast (Time).
To start, put a half cup of hot water on the floor. That cup should be about 50 °C more or less while the floor is cooler at 22 °C. Once done, set the thermal camera, in this case, the IR0280, to alarm at high temperature to 28 °C. That should be enough.
Now, let’s see how fast the camera detects the hot cup.
To do this, position yourself with the camera far from the cup. Slowly close in towards the cup, with the camera pointed at it. To let the camera refresh, you can do an up and down movement each time you take a step.
The results were impressive. The IR0280 detected the cup at 15 meters. 100 percent success every time.
PerfectPrime’s more powerful IR0005 didn’t do as well. You need to really scan the screen harder for detection to happen. Worse, it was much longer. It was able to detect the hot cup within 10 meters.
Add an audible alarm to IR0280’s effective fire-prevention features and this thermal camera would have been a perfect tool to deter fires. Major ones like the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris fire including.
N.b.: PerfectPrime would like to thank our avid consumer/supporter for providing his experiment details along with the thermal images.