Seeing Through the Smoke: A Conversation with Andy Starnes on Revolutionizing Firefighting with Thermal Imaging Cameras

Firefighting is a challenging profession that demands quick thinking and the right tools to ensure success and safety for both firefighters and the public. One of the essential tools that have been revolutionizing firefighting is thermal imaging cameras. In this podcast, we will be talking to Andy Starnes, the founder of Insight Fire Training, to learn more about how they use thermal imaging cameras to train and prepare firefighters to face any firefighting challenge. Listen, watch, or read the podcast below.

Episode Transcript

Andy Starnes' Journey to Founding Insight Fire Training

Brief overview of Andy’s career path

Carina Neighbour: Andy. It's safe to say that You've had a pretty incredible career. Can you give us a brief rundown of the events that brought you to firefighting and to ultimately establishing Insight Fire Training?

Andy Starnes: I grew up in a very rural part of America where there was nothing but farms - there wasn't even a stoplight in the town I grew up in. My father worked full-time for AT&T and volunteered at the local fire department. At that time, there was no first responder program or way to provide emergency medical coverage for our town – my dad helped found that when his mother got sick.

When I was a kid, I learned about the fire department through my father. He would come home from working, and he would get in the car and go to the volunteer fire station – if I didn't go with him, I didn't get to see him. As a kid, whilst they were in meetings, I would play on the fire trucks in the bay, jumping from one metal bumper to another, trying not to touch the floor – that was like my first playground. Now I won't let my daughter play on a playground which has rubber mulch and safety stuff – I’m a little bit of hypocrite there because I played on rusty metal fire trucks as a kid.

So, I got into the fire service world very early, and it was an organization where no one was paid for what they did. The town was funding it all, and I saw the value in it, and became a junior firefighter when I was a teenager, which was a healthy place to be, instead of getting to other things. As my dad said, I was a good kid until I was nineteen, then he thought about taking me out. I had that one year where I wasn't so well-behaved. But as a junior firefighter, I learned a lot, and I got around some good mentors, and then became a certified firefighter at age sixteen – fought my first fire at sixteen. I was hooked, if you will.

I then graduated high school and started at a local community college, and through my father I met Chief Alan Brunacini. My dad was big into teaching. At the time, he was taking a lot of business concepts and teaching the American fire service, and I met Alan Brunacini and he offered me a college internship with Phoenix Fire Department, and I got to spend my summer working at the Training Academy and living at the Fire Station as a nineteen year old kid.

I’m forever grateful for the Brunacini family and everything they did for me has opened my eyes to a lot of things outside of what I was used to. After I finished my community college degree, I got hired by my fire department–where I work now–Charlotte Fire Department, in 1998. I started there, and I got promoted to Captain in 2007. I was promoted to Battalion Chief in 2018, and in between there I got involved with my father and something called Project Kill The Flashover, which is an applied Fire Science Research project, which was another way to hang out with my dad. If you notice everything for me was just hanging out with my dad, and that's where I fell into thermal imaging, was through that time spent with him.  

It was a very small project to help volunteer departments, and my dad and several other smart people like Chief Shawn Oak, and some other ones, started doing this, and people from other countries came in, and I met people from Germany and Sweden - all over, you know, in this little, small town.

Establishing Insight Fire Training

Andy Starnes: In 2015, while I was helping do all this, I got hurt. I fell through a floor and ripped my knee in half when we were prepping a house to burn and almost disabled myself – almost ending my career, and that was when my wife politely informed me that if I was going to play firefighter, as a thermal imaging trainer, that I had to get insurance and make it legal.

Hence, Insight Fire Training was born, right there, because that's the whole point of where all this started. It had nothing to do with where I’m at now. It was simply, if you're going to leave this house, you need to protect your family, and when I was hurt I learned something that I never knew before, which was everyone else who goes into thermal imaging goes to school, except firefighters.

I started that journey – which leads you to your next question, which is: Where I started? I started going to school, and learning – Oh, my word! What do we not know about thermal imaging!? And that’s where the rabbit hole begins, with Alice in Wonderland, so to speak.

Insight Fire Training LLC: An Overview of the Premium Training Provider

Carina Neighbour: Please tell us more about Insight Fire Training.

Andy Starnes: I started, basically, because I was hurt. I started learning that everyone else went to school, and I learned about thermography training, and I learned that industrial training or industrial trainers with thermographers had a minimum of thirty two hours of training, and I started digging into this, and I said, ‘’Why don't I look into this?’’ And everyone I talked to discouraged me going that route, they said, ‘’No, it doesn't really apply to the fire service. You don't need that.’’ And I just felt compelled to do it.

So, I went to school, and when I came in, they make you fill out a survey, it says, ‘’How much do you know about thermal imaging?’’ I was trained by manufacturers and a lot of smart people at this point, and I felt like I knew a little bit, and I put ‘‘I know a little bit about thermal imaging’’. At the end of the course they ask you again, ‘’What do you feel like you know about thermal imaging?’’ And I put, ‘’I feel like a caveman holding a flashlight’’, because what they were doing in industry – it’s far exceeded what we could even imagine in the fire service.

I knew right then and there that I had opened Pandora's box, and I had to keep going. So, Insight Training was founded. I got my Level One Thermography Certification. I went and got my Level Two Thermography Certification. I started getting certified, even for residential things like residential inspection and HVAC inspection, window thermography, a lot of different things that a lot of different people had said had nothing to do with firefighting, and I found a bridge between the two professions.

So, physics is physics. Infrared science applies. You just had to learn to write and make those concepts experientially relevant. So, I wrote an entire curriculum based on industrial concepts that relate to what we do in a fire, and that's where everything began. I started meeting people, travelling, training and teaching, and started with a very basic program. And now we have up to a 32-hour course. It's been peer reviewed by infrared training centers, from multiple organizations to manufacturers. And now we have a collegiate curriculum, that's been peer-reviewed by thermologists at Kentucky Thermal Institute and certified through Western Kentucky University.

From starting out hanging out with my father, to falling through a floor, to feeling like a caveman holding a flashlight. Now, Insight Training has trained in all 50 states and over 30 countries. We have helped people, and we now also help manufacturers. We do product development and consulting. We test on things outside of thermal imaging, like PPE and flashlights - things that have to do with the fire environment. We do about one hundred live fire events a year! I now have 14 people working for me, all because I fell through a floor and got hurt.

So, if you think something happening to you is not meant to be, and you had something bad happen to you, and that's the end of you – no! It's not. It's probably just the beginning of your journey. So, that's the short version of the last ten years or so.

First Encounter with Thermal Imaging Cameras and Initial Impressions

When and how Andy first came across thermal imaging cameras

Carina Neighbour: When did you first come across thermal imaging cameras, and what was your first impression?

Andy Starnes: I didn't see thermal imaging as a volunteer. We didn't have that until I got hired and I got hired in 1998. We didn't have them officially until 2002, but I saw them in 2000, so 23 years ago. It was an old MSA 5000 thermal imaging camera (TIC) and that's what our department had forever and ever until 2018, when our department upgraded to FLIR K65s at the time.

Andy's first impression of thermal imaging cameras

Andy Starnes: So, it was a very rudimentary, if you look at it now, but back then, it was like – this is innovative, this is amazing! It’s like black and white TV – it's amazing, compared to looking at your iPhone now, and compared to looking at cell phone from twenty years ago.

So it was pretty eye-opening for me, but I wasn't hooked in it until I got involved with my father, and I got involved with people outside of my comfort zone, people from other countries that opened up my learning, and then people who built cameras who showed me what a camera could do  –  taught me words like emissivity, and don't use the spot temperature, and things of that nature that firefighters didn't know.

So, that's my initial exposure. And then, when I first got exposed to it through Project Kill the Flashover, with a gentlemen that used to own ISG [Infrasys] (which Scott Safety bought out), he showed me something, he said, ‘’Hey, go in here and watch over these people, and I need you to call out apparent temperatures because this camera is recording.” And I said, “Well, don't you think I need to know how to use this first?” and he gave me like a fifteen-minute little lesson, and then he pointed it back at the burning building, he said, “Now, do you feel comfortable ducking and diving under that turbulent black smoke that's exhausting out that door?” And I said, “Honestly, I feel like I should go home and apologize to my wife because I should be dead!” It changed my whole paradigm, if you will, for me. So that's where that whole beginning came for me because I looked at fire one way, and a thermal imaging camera calls me to look at it a different way – a completely different way.

Differences between older and newer camera models

Carina Neighbour: How do the old MSA cameras, compare to the newer cameras? Are they completely different?

Andy Starnes: Well, the fundamentals of infrared science are the same. But when you look at how they've changed since the infrared technology was first introduced. I mean, if you think to the very first mention of infrared sciences to ancient Egyptians putting mud on people and seeing where it dried first, and that would detect that’s where the disease was in the body, or they would take their hands and rub over someone if they felt a warm spot – that's where the infection was found - versus Sir William Herschel in the 1800s when he discovered it [infrared], and actually considered the area outside of visible light was infrared energy. He didn't even call it infrared. Then, he called it dark heat. Well, firefighters have said anything over their head they couldn’t see, that was hot, they call that black fire. So, we had this correlation.

Advancements and improvements in newer cameras

As we moved into this area, where suddenly military grade equipment, which was infrared devices became declassified, it came into firefighters’ hands. From the very first big, bulky cameras such as the Carnes Iris to these giant cameras that look like a black and white TV on a stick, to what we have now, which is much, much lighter weight and higher resolution, and better pixel pitch, and higher quality – as far as imaging – and faster, and able to pick up smaller differences in temperature, so, has it changed? Dramatically! Is the science behind it the same? Yes.

But what you're seeing is just like a cell phone was a phone, now a cell phone is a two-terabyte computer – it's not just a phone. So, an infrared camera is not just an infrared camera anymore. It's a thermal imaging camera with software enhancements and application modes, and bells and whistles, and things that probably may or may not have been intended for the fire service but now we're starting to look towards different avenues of how that camera can see that environment better. So yes, it's changed dramatically.

Training Firefighters to Effectively Use Thermal Imaging Technology

Andy's approach to training new firefighters

Carina Neighbour: How do you train new firefighters to use thermal imaging technology effectively?

Andy Starnes: Well, we don’t just train new firefighters, we train everyone. When we come into a room and we have a group of people, I usually size the room up by asking them, “What is one thing you want to learn today?” We begin by learning where they are but then our training is very simple but intense.

We introduce them to—or a reintroduction, if you will—to the word ‘heat’. Firefighters, we're taught, just like I was once (and I’m not preaching down to them in any way shape or form because, as my father said, “You didn't know any better when you started, either.”) We were taught to measure heat by sight, what we see and what we feel, which is a late sign.

What we do is we reintroduce them to it through science, through data, through research like line of duty death data and burn data - we go through all that and we show them there’s much more going on. For example, two-thirds of the energy in the fire are transmitted in the infrared spectrum - which you cannot see.

We also talk about three perspectives of how that heat affects the things that they value: the victim - which they swore to protect; the property - which we swore to try to conserve; and then the firefighters themselves - as far as that energy is hitting them, and then we further break that down. In the first hour, we don't even talk about a camera. We speak about when they feel pain and when they actually experience a burn, and how their gear is actually absorbing all the energy and the science behind it, because a lot of firefighters have never been told that – and some of what they have been told is anecdotal. Some of it has never been explained. Some of them have never researched it, and a lot of fire departments don't provide thermal imaging training.

So, we start there, and then we go into the types of cameras that are available in the market today. We break down their camera, and a very intensive overview because, unfortunately, no camera is the same. They all have different application modes and color temperature correlations. We then we spend the remainder of the day - this is just day one - if we do multiple days with them, we then teach them to interpret what they're seeing.

For example, if you pick up a map and you're walking the streets of your town - at the bottom of every map is a legend, a key, or a scale. If I’m in another country, I would have to know what those mean, so I can adequately find my way. Well no one's teaching firefighters what the colors mean, what the symbols mean, what the triangle means, and why does it do that, why does the camera freeze, and was that normal? Is that not normal? And then end user behaviors like how they should wipe the lens periodically to keep it from fogging up, and how to scan - we break it all down for them so that not only do they interpret it properly, but they use it properly.

Then we spend the last part of the day telling them how it can hurt them if they're not careful. We explain the limitations, contraindications, and how to overcome those. For example, some of what I was taught is passed on from other people that didn't understand thermography. Something as simple as, ‘a thermal imaging camera can’t see through glass’ - well, it doesn’t see through anything - but context is everything, otherwise you wouldn't have window thermographers that inspect windows, and single pane glass is completely different than double pane or triple pane glass.

That's a full 8-hour day, and we always include some type of live fire demonstration, because I don't believe in doing classroom only. I will do it, but I don’t really believe in it. They must have a heat source, so that you show them in the classroom and then you show them with some type of small-scale model, so they can better understand what you're saying.

Resistance to New Technology in the Firefighting Industry

Challenges faced when introducing new technology

Carina Neighbour: When you started inside fire training, did you find there was a resistance to new technology in the industry?

Andy Starnes: Firefighters are resistant to change in general. I mean Alan Brunacini – God rest his soul – used to say two things Firefighters hate, ‘change’ and ‘the way things are’. So, we didn't like either one.

What I found was they weren't just resistant to technology; they just lacked the education and the understanding – just like I did. So, never forget where you came from – that’s number one, right? I came from the same place, and I consider myself a student. People call me different things, some good, some bad. But people think that I’m an expert in this, and I just tell them I’m a student. I'm continually learning, because the minute I stop learning, then I rest on my laurels, and then someone will take my place where I'm not helping the student adequately. But I found that many firefighters were resistant because a senior respected person that they looked up to told them this, and they believed it.

Well, people can say what they want about millennials, but if you challenge a millennial on something, they'll take out their phone and they'll Google it, they'll look it up and they'll see if you're wrong. And in today's environment you need to be able to challenge people and say, “Please look it up, verify it.” So, I think that had a lot to do with it, and it was also a lack of a complete lack of focus in their organization. Thermal imaging was not considered important, because the way the text was delivered about understanding fire behavior and fire suppression, it was once again suppression or fighting fire was more of a visible and a feeling mindset. What do I see? What do I feel? That's how I fight that enemy.

That's not adequate in the environment we're working, and once we start to educate them, then you start to see their eyes open and bells and whistles go off in their head and they go, ‘Now I understand.’ But I think it takes someone doing that in a way that doesn't invalidate them. Someone who doesn’t talk down to them just because they don't know it. If someone hadn't taken the time to explain it to me, I wouldn't be sitting here sharing it with you, so that's the way we teach. We don't teach in any way, shape or form that talks down. We're all about building people up. Meet them where they're at, bring them up, and our goal is that we develop what we call ‘intelligently aggressive firefighters’, firefighters have always been aggressive, but we want to give them information so they can make more informed decisions in order to do their job better - faster, safer, and smarter.

Overcoming resistance and promoting adoption

Carina Neighbour: Has that resistance changed now, surely?

Andy Starnes: I mean I've been a lot of places. We just did training at FDIC International, the largest fire training conference in the world, with over two hundred students, and I would say 70% of them did not know the information that we were passing along. There were people in Australia, from Canada, from all over, and they were wonderful people, but they haven't had that information. They weren't resistant because they took the time to take a class but based on what I heard from some of the student, some of their organizations had that resistance.   

There's a lot of people that say, “Hey, you shouldn't rely on technology!” And I look at them as they're telling me that and they're texting on their phone. I'm like, really? Well, let me take your smartphone away from you for six weeks, let me see how you behave. I think we're resistant to things we want to be resistant to. We aren’t resistant when we find out something benefits us, and we learn that benefit and we like that benefit. Then we don't want that benefit taken away from us.

My mother-in-law refused to get an iPhone until she could no longer get text messages from her grand babies, because her phone was so antiquated that the messages weren't coming through. So, we bought her an iPhone. We took her to a class. They taught her how to use an iPhone and guess who you cannot get that iPhone away from now? You cannot get that iPhone away from my mother-in-law now. She refused to have one but once you taught her how to use it, and how valuable it was, and that she could face time her grandchildren - good luck getting that phone away from her!

I think it’s the same when you teach a firefighter something they're resistant to. Someone taught me this a long time ago, ‘’Don't answer the question, answer the questioner, the person behind it.’’ There's a reason they’re resistant. It's not because they're obstinate and angry and bitter and cynical. Something happened. They have a reason. They have a question or a lack of understanding. Some people simply don't like to be told they don't know something.

Getting firefighters to open their paradigm, first occurs by the instructor opening up themselves, and not condemning or demeaning the student.

My first statement after I tell students my brief testimony is, I share with them how a thermal camera failed me, how I missed the victim, and then how I was the reason that I caused the camera to fail, because I didn't understand how the camera should be properly stored. I left it on a superheated surface, causing the batteries to discharge.

So, the first thing I tell them is how I failed, not how I've done all this stuff – no – I tell them how I’ve failed. I think that opens them, by being honest and vulnerable with them, and that stops a lot of that resistance where, if you stand up and beat your chest and say, look at me, and how great I am! You're literally standing up on a podium, and somebody's going to knock you off. I don’t believe in being arrogant and boastful because we’re all cut from the same cloth. So, resistance, there’s a reason for it and I think it takes someone who is understanding to see that and to open them up.

Carina Neighbour: I'm surprised thermal imaging cameras are not a standard tool as of yet. Is it not a standard tool? It's like a laptop, isn't it? You wouldn't go to work without a laptop.

Andy Starnes: Well, change is painfully slow in the fire service, but technology has moved at an astronomically fast pace, as you know.

I think what you're going to see is just like when breathing apparatus—over where you are [in the UK], they call them BAs, here [in the US] we call them SCBAs—were first we've resisted.

Now, SCBAs (or BAs) are standard for every firefighter.

Well, when they became standard, what was not standard on them was something known as a pass device. If a firefighter remained motionless, this device would wait, and would go off, and would warn someone the firefighter was down. Now, every SCBA is required to have an integrated pass device.

In my opinion, in the future you will see some type of integrated thermal imaging or visualization for firefighters. That's not going to be the be all end all answer, but it's going to be part of the equation.

Someone much smarter than me—it was quoted in a firehouse article—said: It is a sad state of affairs with the technology we have today, in the most industrialized nation in the world we live in, that we still have firefighters getting lost in a smoke-filled environment.

And I believe, Dr. Grimwood says it, Paul Grimwood from your area there [in the UK], said: It will become a standardized thing in the future that a TIC (Thermal Imaging Camera) on a firefighter will be like an air pack on their back, or a fire truck and a fire station. But, as I said, change is painfully slow, and I think funding and profit has a lot to do with it, because if you look at it, some of the largest companies, such as FLIR, make lots of cameras but the fire service is very small as far as that percentage of sales. So, when that becomes more of a market per se, when everyone must have a camera, now that market opens up,  and I think that's what's probably going to drive that change.

You get consensus standard change where things have to be mandatory, and you go from a hundred thousand firefighters carrying a camera to millions of firefighters carrying cameras, and I think that will help that change, because then there's more reason for manufacturers to jump on and get on my bandwagon. So, it's going to be a combination factors, I think.

Impact of Thermal Imaging Technology on Firefighting Operations

How thermal imaging technology has changed firefighting approaches

Carina Neighbour: How has thermal imaging technology changed the way you approach a firefighting operation?

Andy Starnes: From that day I told you the story where the gentleman pointed at the door and told me, ‘’What do you think now?’’ It's completely changed my entire perspective.

I looked at it as a one-sided equation. It's like assuming you know the answer to something when you haven't done your homework, and then you go in and jump in, and you get upset at someone, because you think you know what they did, and then you realized they didn't do that. It was your fault. You misunderstood it. And now you feel terrible.

For me, I felt like the first 15 years of my fire service career, I was looking at the fire from the fact of looking at the building and looking at the smoke, I wasn't reading the heat and looking at thermal data. So, I wrote an article several years ago, something called the Thermal Paradigm Shift, and that's what happened to me.

I shifted my paradigm to look at it a little bit more openly. Not saying that I now see everything because we don't, but now I see thermal data, and I know how important it is because I study other industries that use it. It's a multi-billion-dollar industry, as far as what it's used for, and how it saves money and saves lives and livelihoods, and all the things that it does. But yet, the fire service still hasn't caught on to that.

Benefits and enhancements in operational effectiveness

Andy Starnes: When I began to understand the power of heat, even from a qualitative perspective, it changed the way I fight fire, the way I searched, the way I size things up, and more importantly, the way I watch over my people. I look at it and say they've been in there too long, the heat is this much in the building, I'm moving over here because what I understand about building construction and fire behavior AND the data from the thermal imaging camera, it's made me smarter and faster and safer in that respect, because when you get older you want to be faster because you want to work, you know, smarter, not harder. So, it has helped me a lot.

I like what my father said about measuring and managing things. He was a follower of Dr. Deming, and he basically said, ‘’If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.’’

I read an article from a thermographer who was a DOD (Department of Defense) guy, and he said that, ‘’You can't mitigate a problem, you can't see. You can't fix an issue, that you don't know is there.’’ Yes, we know there's fire. Yes, we know there is heat. But we don't know where it is. We don't know the severity of it, and we don't know where it's going. We can predict with our training and our experience. But we can predict, and we can do that with our training and experience, and we can be horrendously wrong, and people can die.

To me, to not include that data, and to not have that training as an incident commander or company officers who are watching over someone is not only negligent, but it's also very ignorant and arrogant to think that you don't need it, because in the environment you work in, you need that tactical advantage because the fire is ahead of you, from the moment the bell hits. So, that for me, it's completely changed the way I look at it.

Carina Neighbour: How do you integrate thermal imaging technology into your overall firefighting strategy?

Andy Starnes: That's a long, long answer. I would say, the simple answer is–the word's been around a long time, tactical thermal imaging, which is what we call our class, which is, ‘the use of thermal imaging to enhance strategies and tactics on the fireground, to make your service delivery better, faster, more efficient, and to detect unseen hazards that could harm the victim, the people you work with. That's how I incorporate it.

It is simply knowing what I'm seeing, knowing my device, and I have to carry it. Believe it or not, the biggest obstacle you will come with incorporating it is getting firefighters to carry the darn thing. They leave it on the truck fifty percent of the time - for the last study we did with Firehouse magazine. Fifty percent of the time it is staying in the battery charger. I would argue that a cell phone stays off the charger more than it does on.

So, if we could get them to use them like cell phones, we might actually be able to do so. So, for me, integration means it should be a part of a firefighter's personal protective equipment. It should be a part of their perspective when they look at something and realize the human eye only sees 0.3 percent of all light, so 99.7 percent of what's going on in the world around me - I can't see. And that camera sees 7 to 14 microns, which I cannot see. So, why am I not carrying a device that could see things that could harm me, harm the victim, or harm my people? If I saw them, I could fix the problem faster and make this problem go away and stop harm – reduce loss. That's the mission of the fire service. So, for me, it's a no-brainer. It allows you to fix problems faster, and whatever you do. If you're married, don't teach your spouse to use one, because my wife, now, knows how to look at walls and say, ‘’That's not a low-bearing wall, when he goes on his next trip, I'm going to have somebody take this wall out. We're going to redo this.’’ So, she's taking it a little too far! So, once you learn what these things can do, you can fix things, and you can also create more work for yourself as a spouse, so just be careful on that one.

Tactical Thermal Imaging: Definition and Explanation

Carina Neighbour: You defined it as tactical thermal imaging. Can you go into that little bit?

Andy Starnes: Tactical is related to doing a task. Strategy and tactics in my role as Battalion Chief, I’m in the strategy work. I’m picking a strategy that I think is going to work on this incident and the firefighters are executing that strategy through hands-on tasks. Tactical is the firefighters using it to do things such as size-up. That's a hands-on task, making entry, and searching for victims - that's a task. You know, stretching a hose line and directing the stream and fighting the fire, fighting the heat. That's what we define as tactical thermal imaging.

However, NIST defined it way back before I did, they define all these different things you can use it for, from size-up to checking upper layers above your head for heat, for forensics, for arson investigation, for wildland firefighting. Everything they listed in that paper years ago, is being used today. Now the fire services, like you said, still resistant to it – but my mission is to change that, and my main mission is so that it benefits the citizen and benefits the firefighter, and reduces a total loss of lives on both sides.

I think once that value is put into the fire service, and then, I think, a combination between litigation and since the standard change and manufacturers coming on board, you will see it become more commonplace. But it's kind of like my daughter, who's thirteen, making her change - you must make her change, and then she finally realizes she needs to do that.

That's not an easy thing to do. If you imagine in the United States, imagine 1.2 million 13-year old’s – that’s how many firefighters there are – and we must make them change, but they like the way they do things, and you’re going to change something – they aren’t going to be happy about it.

So, the first rule is, come in and just add it, don't change it. Show them how it helps them do their job without changing their behavior. It changes the way they see it.

The fundamental skill set is the same. The camera is just used to diagnose the problem. Before you force that door, I want you to look at it and see if there's heat behind it. Before you stretch that hose down the hallway, I want you to see how much heat there is so you don't crawl under a superheated environmental. So that's the tactic behind it, but that involves them literally doing something you probably do every day when you walk across the street. They need to look both ways and see, ‘What is out there that could harm me? Am I about to step out in front of a double-decker bus in London?’ Not a good idea!

When you step into a burning building, are you about to step into a unidirectional flow path, that's a full exhaust, that after thirty seconds of heat energy absorption, you’re going to be burned, injured, or killed. Probably not a good idea, but that requires them to stop, scan, communicate, and then go to work.

That's that tactical side of it, getting them to have incorporated it into their PPE. To your other question earlier, ‘Why is it not standardized?’ Getting them to look and then getting them to fix it. It's not as complicated as people would make it out to be. The level of research and knowledge behind it may be complicated but putting it in what we call experiencedly relevant terms, is not that complicated.

Enhancing Situational Awareness and Safety with Thermal Imaging

How thermal imaging improves situational awareness

Carina Neighbour: How does thermal imaging improve situational awareness and safety for firefighters and other first responders?

Andy Starnes: This one's personal for me. I've been lost and disoriented three times in my career, and I should be dead. Two of which was - being well trained in firefighting, I made a mistake, a big one. So, for me, to know that there is a secondary means of orientation, not a primary, but I have a way out, if I get in trouble, why wouldn't I want to have it? Why wouldn't I want to use it? And then, if you look past line of duty desk, and you look at just fireground injuries like I told you about my story about injuring myself and hurting my knee. I spent six months out at work.

Ensuring safety for firefighters and first responders

Andy Starnes: Every firefighter I know, has at least two jobs, two occupations to make ends meet, because they’re not paid that well. So now, not only is a firefighter injured because they were lost or disoriented, they can't work their second job. They can't watch the kids or do the things for their spouse. Eighteen percent of all fireground injuries from 2016 to 2019 out of 60,000 injuries that resulted in time off from work were due to firefighters becoming lost or disorientated.

So, having a device that improves situation awareness and the master of this is Dr. Gasaway, not me. Look up ‘situational awareness’, look up ‘’ and look at what he's talking about. He talks about getting your brain to understand it. But now I have a device that allows me to improve that. Why wouldn’t we do that?

Michael Whitty, from Australia, published in his paper that a firefighter was properly trained and equipped with a thermal imaging camera, when they became lost or disorientated, found their way out of a building 100 percent of the time. 100 percent of the time!

Do you want to go to bed at night without a smoke detector in your home? I don't. People don't wake up to smoke – most people, they die. So, to know that I have something that's going to see something that could help me find my crew and find my way out is phenomenally important.

The other aspect of this is too many firefighters just base their entire perception of the environment on what they see and what they feel. That's a late reactive measure. With the gear that we wear, in the environment we're in, by the time you feel pain, by time you see flame, it is too late. The fire has won, and it's got a tactical advantage on you, and we need to allow us to take back that advantage and gain ground on that enemy, so we can get that victim out, save their home or their property.

So, for me to know that I have a device that can improve that, but we refuse to use it for whatever reasons, resistance to change, stubbornness, I don't like it, technology, whatever. None of that holds up in court, none of that.

I don't know about your world, but for some reason over here they've decided that police, fire and emergency, medical professionals are the perfect people to sue. They figured that out, and they're suing them left and right for everything you can think of. The last thing I want is to make a mistake that someone could say: Well, this firefighter did not do his or her job, so we shall sue them.

Why are we setting ourselves up for failure? We should be setting ourselves up for success, because every firefighter’s issued equipment, and if they don't use it and get hurt, their organization is not going to back. So now I have a piece of equipment that is issued to me that can make a difference, and I refuse to use it. How do you think that's going to work out for me? Litigation, injury, whatever it may be? It's not going to bode well in my favor. Nor is it going to be when someone finds out that I could have used the device to save their children faster.

I think that's where we're getting to. I don't want to be made or make the fire service change due to litigation and spurring that. But thermal data is important to every industry out there except ours, and the research shows it is. Yet the research itself doesn't include modern updated cameras. So, I think we've got a little way to go.

Carina Neighbour: I can't believe that 100 percent of the time they managed to get out.

Andy Starnes: And that was done by Michael Whitty in 2008. Everyone always asks, ‘’Where did you get the data from?’’ Maximizing Thermal Imaging Use in Emergency Services by Michael Whitty, who wrote a phenomenal forty-page short research paper - best research paper I've read because it was written by a firefighter, so any firefighter can understand it. Very straightforward, to the point, quotes where you get the information from. He wrote the paper due to a loss of a loved one in a fire. He dedicated that at the beginning of the paper, so it gets your attention right off the bat.

But yes, it is very profoundly important that firefighters understand that. And you're not over relying on the device, simply no more than you would rely on your cell phone to give you directions when you need it.

I am just amazed or appalled at the hypocrisy of firefighters when they say, ‘’I don’t want to over rely on technology’’, but they'll sit in a room full of firefighters, and they won't talk to each other, and they're texting each other. You're not even talking to each other. You're using technology to do it. Yet, you won't use it in there where you could die.

I said this recently, I said, ‘’This device, a cell phone, can cost you your relationships, your marriage - a lot of things, but a thermal imaging camera that costs about the same as an iPhone or Android - can save your life, but you don't want to spend it or use it on that – and that’s a problem.

Carina Neighbour: So, without the camera, previously firefighters were just relying on feel and sight to get their way out of situations?

Andy Starnes: Yes, and they say that’s very difficult if you've been in an environment where you're completely disoriented. Firefighters do train on that, but are they trained enough so that when they're panicking, they still do the right thing?

A friend of mine who - one of my guys actually - had a Mayday. He was directing a crew out of the building when the fire conditions changed, and his exact words were to me: ‘’I just wasn't ready.’’ The amount of energy that hit his face raised his mask over where, even with the thermal imaging camera in his hand, he couldn't see it, because his mask braised over and melted. He said the pain was so intense it overwhelmed him, and the only thing he could remember to do was put his hand on the wall and find that window, and he pushed the board out and jumped out of the window.

So, I don't think firefighters really understand the levels that their body will be pushed to when that event happens, and what level they'll fail to. If they read about these guys and gals who died in a fire, they didn't behave like perfectly calm, competent. Some of them ran towards the fire. Some of them took their gear off, folded it, sat in the corner and sat down and died.

They did some really unusual things due to the things they were breathing, and what was happening to their body.

So why wouldn't I want to have an advantage to say, Okay, I know I’m in trouble, but I’m not that in trouble yet, and I can see my way out. I can find the hose line, find my crew, and get out safely, or find someone who needs me to get them out safely.

Carina Neighbour: I think it's interesting that you said that when his mask went over, he did end up going back to the primary training that he was given. Because you're not saying to remove that training, you’re just saying a thermal imaging camera is an added layer of protection.

Andy Starnes: What we teach is a force multiplier. So, in order for you to, you know, have a skill set to multiply, you have to have a base skill set first. So, if my skill set is zero, ten times zero is zero. That means I'm not a good firefighter. But this individual I’m talking about, one of my guys, he had a very good skill set, and he fell back on that skill set, and I think between that and the grace of God got him out because if it had been anybody else without that skill set I think they would have died.

But people don't realize that you fail to your base level. If you think about your home right now. Vision this in your mind. You're sleeping your home in the middle of night. You have a fire. What door are you going to run to? Which one?  

Carina Neighbour: The one that’s not on fire! I've been in a fire.

Andy Starnes: Yeah, in the house?

Carina Neighbour: Yes, and to be honest I just followed my Dad!

Andy Starnes: God bless you, you know! Most people run towards the door they always use. If you look at these terrible incidents, that are going on around the world from riots, the active shooter, or whatever. If they're in a big building, and shots are fired, people run back through the door they came in. They don't look for the exit door to the side that's right next to them.

My wife and I joked that if there's a fire in our home, we're going to run to the opposite in the house to get our daughter, then we're going to run to the front door to get her out, when there is a door six feet from my daughter's bedroom. But we don't use that door.

So, when I say you fail to your base level, my instructor, he failed to his base level, which was training. That's what thermal imaging can do for you if you needed it. Prior to that he still had his fundamentals, but the thermal camera could get you out or help you do those things. But your batteries, if you will, or your fundamentals, the thermal imaging batteries may die, it may quit due to technology, everything with technology may fail at some point.

But people have to understand that the device can enhance your fundamentals. It can be a force multiplier, but it can't do any of that if, A, you're not skilled, and, B, you don't carry the darn thing.

So, that's where we're at what it is. We can't be resistant to technology. It’s no different than a friend of mine who sent me an article from a paper years ago, where horse-drawn fire steam engines versus motorized fire engines were first introduced, and the firefighters did not want the motorized firings. They wanted to keep the horses.

That's how obstinate and resistant we are to change.

Think about that.

Importance of Thermal Imaging in Successful Firefighting Scenarios

Specific firefighting scenario where thermal imaging was critical

Carina Neighbour: Can you remember a specific, firefighting scenario where thermal imaging was critical to the operation’s success?

Andy Starnes: I would say several. But for myself and the guys that work for me and many, many people, they talk about two things happening on a regular basis, and I've experienced it myself. It's using it from the size-up perspective – when you're walking around the building to determine where the fire is, where it's going, where there are potential spaces where people can be trapped. And then that initial look through that front door before I make entry and gaining that information about the layout of the building, the fire location, and where that victim is. Those two points, using that camera, is probably the most valuable thing we teach, because once you make entry into the environment, you're not promised what kind of visibility you're going to get. You don't know what kind of conditions you have. You could have light smoke. You could have optically dense smoke that could obscure your vision which prevents you from even seeing the camera. You could have high moisture content smoke, which thermal energy cameras hate moisture.

So, that initial walk around, or 360, if you will, with the camera, and then being able to make that initial look, and that, what we call our size up or tactical 360 has been the most beneficial thing for me, because I've been able to find the fire and figure out where, it's the acronym in the States - we call B.A.G: Where's it been? Where is it at? And where's it going? I can see things that a lot of people miss.

Role of thermal imaging in operational success

Andy Starnes: I have a video of where we did a house fire, and I noticed the company officer carried a camera and went on his 360, but never looked at it with his camera. When I asked him why he was frustrated, he said ‘’that I couldn't find the stairs in the building. I had to push through fire to go around the back to make the stairs,’’ and I said, ‘’Come over here with me,’’ and we stood on the side of the house that was completely sided–no windows or doors– and we picked up his camera and we looked at it, and you could see the riser treads of the stairs going up the side of the building - through the wall. It's not x-ray vision. There's a temperature differential - thermal bridging between where the studs touch the wall and the exterior space - the camera picked it up, and he just put his head down. It's like: Hey! We learn, it’s not your fault, the department's not pushing it. I'm helping you now - use it in the future.

So, to me the size up and that initial look with that device - if firefighters would do that, it would change everything for them, whether they use it or not from that point on, because at least they'd know where the fire is, where they start to search, where they're stretching their hose line to, and they have what we usually don't have, which is a pre-plan. I have an idea of how this building is laid out, and the conditions within it - which we usually don't get that luxury.

So now I have an advantage. I don't like going to war against something and being at a disadvantage.

Common Misconceptions about Thermal Imaging in Firefighting and Corrections

Addressing misconceptions related to thermal imaging

Carina Neighbour: What’s the biggest misconception people have about thermal imaging in firefighting? And how do you correct it?

Andy Starnes: I would say a couple of different things. When I first started teaching, I was told, ‘’Don't use the spot temperature. Don't use the spot temperature. It's inaccurate.’’ And for some reason, when we were first teaching it, people thought we were telling them to use this feature – that’s further from the truth. They’d hear a number, and they thought we were referring to that number. We look at the apparent temperatures, which is what the camera gives you.

Using the spot temperature in a thermal imaging camera for a firefighter - probably the most dangerous thing you could do. It took a long time for NFPA to realize it shouldn't be there. They took it all from the new NFPA - the 1801-2021 standard. When you turn it on and TI (thermal imaging) basic, the number is not even there on the right-hand corner, because firefighters will look at that number, and they think it was indicative of the entire environment.

So that's dangerous - number one. Number two is: it’s not a thermometer. It can be several hundred degrees off. It's not a quantitative industrial camera. It doesn't have the ability to adjust for variables such as focus, range, distance, emissivity, atmospheric attenuation, reflected apparent temperature. You don't have an anemometer when you go down the hallway to see what the wind speed is, and the ambient temperature of the room programmed all into a camera. Firefighters don't have time nor the luxury of doing that.

We have a qualitative device that gives us that layout and gives us an idea of those conditions. To this day there are firefighters still using that spot temperature measurement, not knowing the reason they took that number away in the new standard was because it was cited as a contributing factor in three line of duty deaths. There are departments that have it in their department standard operating guidelines that the captain shall give a temperature report over the radio - a number. This listed in a line of duty death report in the United States where the captain did that, and they're dead. That's sad, because the fire service should be held liable for that. Thermographers, manufacturers, have all said, do not use the temperature indicator for critical decision making. It is a parent temperature or uncompensated temperature measurement.

We've taught that from day one. Somehow, in some way, firefighters hear something, and they misinterpret things that we have done our best to push and say, ‘’We want you to see the heat. Don't focus on the exact measurements.’’

Industrial thermographers deal in tens of degrees. Firefighters deal in hundreds of degrees, if not greater, and we don't want them to mess that up. I'd say that's probably the biggest issue.

Clarifying the role and limitations of thermal imaging

Andy Starnes: When we do our classroom hybrid, we use a product called the firebox, and it basically burns inside the box, but the side of it is diamond plating, like you see, on American fire trucks. Not so much overseas. You'll not have the diamond plating.

The box is very shiny, which is a low emissivity object. So, when the box is blowing flames out of the side of it, we have them stand and look at the diamond plate and read the spot temperature on a thermal imaging camera. And it will say it's close to the ambient temperature outside. When I always ask them, take my glove off and say, ‘’Any volunteers who want to put their hand on the side of this box?’’ Nobody volunteers to do it, because that box is very, very hot. But emissivity, as we know, is a single most important attribute and temperature measurement and a fire service camera is not adjustable. If I could adjust it, I could see that that box was very hot.

That camera is set at .95 to .97 emissivity, which is what most carbonaceous objects are on this earth - human skin, rough surfaces, wood, soot, things of that nature. It's not a shiny surface. So, you can teach firefighters textbook definitions like, ‘emissivity is the ability of an object to emit, absorb, and reflect heat with a value from 0 to 1.0’ and they’re going to look at you and roll their eyes, or you can say, ‘it's shiny, it'll burn your hiney (butt)- don't touch it, and if it's rough you can trust it.’

But we have to find this middle ground where we're not teaching theory and thermography as much as we are giving them examples of why this camera can hurt you if you don't understand it.

Carina Neighbour: Yes! I just finished my level one in thermography. That's what we got taught - that low emissivity lies.

Andy Starnes: I am amazed that I’m talking to somebody who's got a level one who is in marketing, so much better job than anybody else.

Carina Neighbour: Yes, it's good. FLIR sends us all to the training so that we have a basic understanding.

Andy Starnes: If you spent three hours on emissivity in level one you have more than a basic understanding, and you can say the word!

Unexpected Uses of Thermal Imaging Cameras in Firefighting Calls

Carina Neighbour: What's the most unexpected way you've used them imaging cameras on a firefighting call?

Andy Starnes: I can think of several but basically, identifying hazards that, as I was told, I can’t see. One day I was walking back to my car as a Battalion Chief, when there was a hazardous material incident where the cable company had cut a two-inch commercial gas line underground. It was three feet underground, but they had these orange pipes, where they run the cable line through it, sticking out of the ground. It's a 100°F day, like a 45°C to 50°C day, very hot, and the ground is showing on the camera around 100°F, but right where that pipe is coming out of the ground is this dark V pattern. And I thought to myself, if I can't see gases with a fire service TIC, which it cannot, it picks up surface temperatures and the changes coming off. Why am I picking that up? And the natural gas coming from the petroleum company was at 58°F: very, very cool. The ground was very, very hot, and the gas was cooling the surfaces and the camera was simply picking it up.

To seeing something like, you've been in these bars where they have carbon dioxide tanks in the back or the beer places or the soda machines, we saw one that was leaking, and the wall behind the tank had a beautiful dark pattern, from where the CO2 gasses were cooling the wall, allowing us to find the tank that was leaking.

We saw a down power line, on the street that was not visible with a naked eye, that lit up on a camera that was around 7,200 volts that would have killed someone. A homeowner called 911 after a hurricane, he had no power to his house, and said, ‘’My water is coming out of my faucet so hot it's burning my hands.’’ His next-door neighbor was using a generator which back fed the electricity to his house, went through an open ground, which was done improperly in his house, and energized the gas line to his hot water. They took your camera, the FLIR K65, and pointed it at the hot water heater, and that metal gas line lit up between 900°F and 1,200°F. That's a bad day to find that out with your bare hands.

Those are some of the most unusual things I've seen. I have several, but to me I have pictures of those because I show the firefighters, it's not just the fireground. There are so many other ways you can use it.

Key Features to Consider When Purchasing a Thermal Imaging Camera

Carina Neighbour: When purchasing a thermal imaging camera. What are the most important features that you look for?

Andy Starnes: Well remember what you asked me in the beginning? Why are firefighters resistance to change? What do you think they're going to do when you hand them a device that has five buttons, lots of icons and complicated color palettes? They're going to put it away, and then in the environment they work in, which is very stressful, very hard to see, they need something that's simple, fast and provides the best image clarity - in the worst condition.

For me, that's the first thing and then secondarily, I would want something that has an investigative feature. If you talk about a FLIR product, it has a search and rescue mode, on your Kxx Series cameras - which is my favorite application feature, because it highlights color early, allowing me to see a problem when I’m further away versus close to it.

A friend of mine that used to work with FLIR, Mike Chapman, who taught me a lot, said, ‘’You use that application mode early or late.’’ That's probably the most profound way of explaining it, because when you're far away and looking at it, you're not going to pick up a temperature at 300°F or 400°F far away, because the energy is dissipating so it highlights that problem early.

So, that to me, having speed, simplicity, clarity, and having an investigative feature in a high resolution camera that doesn't delay information, it's probably the biggest thing these cameras that are slower are causing firefighters problems.

Functionality of Search and Rescue Mode

Carina Neighbour: How exactly does the search and rescue mode work?

Andy Starnes: Well, if you have that particular model, there's five application modes. My favorite is the TI basic, and then search and rescue mode. I program mine where I only have those two options, so it very difficult to mess up.

I have option one, option two, but search and rescue mode instead of having a dual gain or high and low sensitivity camera, you have a single gain. You have a 0°F to 300°F or 0°C to 150°C. Total temperature span or range. It's all it's looking at, but it highlights color early.

Where in TI basic in the FLIR series, it highlights it at 302°F, or 150°C, whereas in search and rescue, it highlights it at 200°F, approximately under 100°C. (I'm doing firefighter math so, my friends overseas, don't shoot me if I got the Celsius equation wrong. I know we're crazy because we still use Fahrenheit and Feet. We just should all go with the metric system - you yell at me enough! I can't get this country to change. I'm trying to get them to carry cameras. You think I’m going to get them to change to Celsius? Not happening! Not in my lifetime.)

But to me search and rescue is investigated mode.

I like cameras that have, and I’ll go back to that research paper that I quoted to you, Michael Whitty’s paper said, ‘’A fire service camera should have two application modes: fire and investigative,’’ and I could not agree with that more, because one: You have seconds you come off a truck. People are screaming. You turn off the camera on. You don't have time to press buttons - you need a camera to work.

But when the seconds and the stress are off and you are looking for an overheated electrical component, or you have light smoke, and you can't find a fire, an investigative tool such as search and rescue mode in your camera is very beneficial, because despite what the movies told you, they lied - there's more than fifty shades of gray. Your fire service camera has 250 contrasting shades of gray on that screen, and you will enjoy this part: The average female can see thirty shades of gray. The average male can only see ten. This is why I’m not allowed to pick out colors when we go pick out paint colors and furniture. But if a man and a woman are both on a hose line, fighting a fire under stress they can only see four shades of grade so early colorization, in a stressful environment, is a game changer and helps firefighters make decisions better. It's a balance. It should not be too much color or too little. But if you read an NFPA, it says TI basics shall be no more than fifty percent of the overall temperature and span shall be gray skills. So, if I had a 1200°F range, then 600°F of it can be up to, you know, black, gray, white.

I like it to show up earlier, because if you do your homework, in our world, especially where you are, the word Ikea rings the bell, I'm sure, their furniture is made of glue, sawdust, and petroleum products, and when it starts heating up at a much lower temperature than solid wood it starts producing flammable vapors. Wouldn't you want to see that before it lights on fire? An early investigative mode, such as search and rescue, is very beneficial to firefighters, but it doesn't do any good unless they have training.

If you read something as simple as an NFPA 1408, which is the thermal imaging training standard, it says, ‘’Firefighters shall have training on these devices before they go into an IDLH (immediately dangerous to life or health) environment. Or, to quote Aaron Field, IDLH stands for ‘I don’t like heat.’

You won’t want to go in there without having training on this device. So, that application mode is very beneficial.

Collaboration with FLIR and Encounters with FLIR Thermal Imaging Cameras

Carina Neighbour: FLIR is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of entering the firefighting market with its thermal imaging cameras in 2013. Please talk us through your first encounters with FLIR thermal imaging cameras and our collaboration over the years.

Andy Starnes: I've seen them before I started working with you, but I did not have a formal experience with them until I met Jason Messerschmidt in 2016, and he gave me an opportunity to evaluate the FLIR K65 at the time. That's where I got introduced to it and started using the Kxx Series products. Then I became very familiar with all the line up from FLIR K1 to the FLIR K65. Now I’m learning about other FLIR products as well, because I do a lot of other things that I’m learning about.

But the Kxx Series line up from that point introduced something called FSX, which is flexible scene enhancement, which was a benefit because it added extra detail, and the upper temperature range which gave firefighters more situational awareness. So, I particularly like that, and I work closely with FLIR for several years and learned those cameras. I'd say, like I said before, that and the search and rescue mode was a very beneficial feature. I wish manufacturers would spend more time on choosing which features they add. I’m not big fan of lots of extra buttons, because when a firefighter's heart rate is over 170 beats per minute, they can't push buttons anyway, and they can't even tell you their street address when they get what they call ‘condition black’. When you read about the stress response to the human body, you want a camera that can do one or two things well without a lot of complicated bells and whistles.

So, I particularly like those features, the FSX, the TI basic, and the search and rescue mode as far as that one is the one that I enjoy the most out of.

Understanding the Functionality of FSX

Carina Neighbour: What does FSX do?

Andy Starnes: Flexible scene enhancement is basically if you ever play with photoshop or image enhancement, it takes a standard infrared image, and through software it adds detail to the background.

So, if you look at it, you look at FLIR picture prior to FSX, and then afterwards, it's an infrared image with black, gray, white, yellow, orange, red, with very little detail within the colorization or colorized areas where, when they've added FSX, you can see where that color is, and anything in there that's superheated. If there's a chair, a table, a wall, window, door frames – it outlines it.

Something called edge protection is very similar–without getting into proprietary stuff, how that works–but it outlines that and picks up those heat signatures around that and gives you almost like, if you take a piece of tracing paper and lay it over something and trace it, it’s tracing those edges, giving that firefighter more situational awareness, such as; you crawl into a bedroom that's on fire, the mattress is burning, the flames are to the ceiling, but behind the flames is a doorway to a bathroom with a child hiding in it with the door shut, most thermal imaging cameras, if you have a lot of flames and heat right there, the door will not be visible behind that. The NFPA says that details shall be resolvable within colorization up to the point of saturation. That means every manufacturer that has an NFPA certified camera must show detail behind the color up to the maximum temperature range. So, once they hit one 1200°F degrees, they’re allowed to completely block out that detail. The FSX doesn't do that. It outlines it all the way up to its maximum temperature range.

So it gives that firefighter more detail in bad situations, and allows them to say, ‘’Hey, that's a doorway,’’ or what I like to say is if I look into a room and it's a big open, great room, and it's a long table instead of saying, ‘’I think that's a table,’’ with FSX I can say that’s a table, three chairs, two high chairs, and a wheelchair,’’ that tells me a lot about who I’m looking for in that environment.

So that's where you’re seeing manufacturers are going, they’re starting to add more of those software enhancements. The infrared camera industry is kind of, in my opinion, dialed out on using 320 × 240 cameras. They need to upgrade them. And what you're seeing is software enhancements is the way to do that.

So that is a particularly interesting software enhancement.

Significant Developments in the Fire Industry in the Past 5-10 Years

Carina Neighbour: What has been the greatest development in the fire industry over the past five to ten years

Andy Starnes: For me it hasn't been thermal imaging. It's been the research and the data that points you to why thermal imaging should be important because, as you said earlier, about the resistance to it.

What makes people change? Someone tells me I need to eat right and exercise. I know that in my heart, in my head. But then, when you were 30 years old, let's see, I’m 47, so I was 34, when my daughter was born. I'm holding a perfectly healthy baby girl, and I’m overweight, out of shape, and my wife's hemorrhaging in the next room from her C-section. What makes you change? Love. Tragedy. Data that means something to you. I changed my lifestyle from that point forward completely. I'm not perfect by any means. I ran three marathons since then, and I still work out, and I try to keep up with these young people I work with. They try to kill me. But that made me change, and the most innovative thing that I've seen is changing firefighters’ thinking by giving them more data on why this must be done. Not just convincing data, condemning, compelling, heart-wrenching data. Whether it's a victim, whether it's the firefighter’s line of duty death, whether it's how many people we’re saving through firefighter rescue, through Brian Brush and his work. Over ten Americans per day are being rescued from homes, then you say, well we add this. This can help us rescue victims faster, rescue more victims. We can save this homeowner’s business, and we can do these things and potentially save firefighters’ lives. You start in the hearts. Then you hit them in the head, and then you hit the people who buy it in the wallet. That's the three points I teach from, and why I told you that, is where did I start? With my daughter. That big change for me was, I don't deserve this, I've got to fix my life.

People have to realize these changes we’re seeing around us. Some of them are being made to change, and some of them are realizing, this is the way, and I think we're going to see more of them say, this is the way, and then you're going to have the people that are just made to change.

But I think the research from places like UL Fire Research Safety Institute, Illinois's Fire Service Institute from my Dad's project Kill the Flashover, and lots of many other great places, and hopefully some of the work that we've done by just simply.

We're not researching as much as we are taking the information that is there, and we are sharing it with firefighters. Do you think the average firefighter is going to sit down and read several, 700-page research papers? They're not especially if they're married and work two job.  But we do, and then we turn around and share information from it, pointing them to the exact page such as via a QR code. We don't even type the link in the presentation we put a QR code and then tell them to get out their cell phone, scan it, go right to page 26, and they can read it so they can physically see, I need to do this. I need to understand this. I will be able to get home my family. I will be able to protect people.

That's where I've seen the biggest change - not the technology, it's the thinking, because you can, David Eskew taught me this: innovation without education leads to frustration.

You cannot have an innovative product and an uneducated user, you will fail, and that is where the thermal imaging industry is failing. We have been trying to change that.

You want to make innovative products. You better have a way of convincing your consumer, why they need it, and if you don't - it'd be the best thing ever made, it'll sell on a shelf, and it'll just collect dust. And I think people are finally starting to wrap their head around the fact that this is important, but now they know why because there's enough information saturating the channels of social media, which is what everybody reads, to realize that this data produces a difference in people's lives, and their property and the fire service.

Carina Neighbour: I think the fire industry is very lucky to have you.

Andy Starnes: I'm a necessary aggravation.

Contact Information for Insight Fire Training

Carina Neighbour: If people would like to learn more about Insight Fire Training, how can they get in touch?

Andy Starnes: They can get in touch with me or my thirteen other people that work with me. I'm very blessed to have a lot of instructors now that are very passionate about it.

You can go to our website,, and hit the contact us page, which is the easiest thing to do. You can go to our Facebook Page, Insight Training, or you go to my lead instructor’s, Facebook pages, Dr. Thomas Anderson, instructor Joey Baxter, Tim Mills.

You can go on LinkedIn to find me, or @InsightTrn with Twitter, you can go to Instagram. You can even find me on TikTok - I don't go on there very much, because I’m not a big fan of it, but I have one, and then you can even email me at and on my Facebook page, it has my cell phone number. Don’t call me after 10pm - my wife will shoot me!

We post something on social media every single day. For the last nine years the if you'd go under Google and type in tactical thermal imaging watch what pops up!

We don't pay for search engine optimization. We have saturated it with articles and posts and videos. Our YouTube Channel has over 700 videos organized by brand subject matter, and I got a lot more coming. I got four little hard drives over here, external hard drives. There are eight terabytes of stuff just from January.

So, we have a lot of things to share. It's just whether I can make time and get enough people to help. But we provide free resources on our website, and we have a private Facebook page where firefighters can answer questions, get files for free, called Tactical Thermal Imaging, you got to search it on Facebook's little search thing when it says, ‘join’, you have to answer two questions to prove to me you're not a spammer or a robot.

I don't put up political or workout stuff on it. It's thermal imaging and first responders - that's it, and it's there. There's about 9,000 members in it. There are manufacturers in it. They all behave, believe or not, they're there to help the firefighter. So, I’m very happy with that, and as long as we continue to share information and knowledge, I think we're all going to be a better place in the next few years.

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