Thermal imaging cameras have become an integral part of everyday life within the fire service. While some years ago the thermal imaging camera was still a tool exclusively used by urban or professional fire brigades, in recent years it has become a standard device across all firefighting departments. There is a simple reason for this; it increases your own safety and greatly reduces rescue times. Different models are available on the market, which differ in size, shape, and function. In addition, a new trend toward favoring helmet-mounted cameras can be seen, with the clear advantage that both hands remain free to work. However, a key question remains, regardless of the model: “Which color mode is the right one?”


A brief history of thermal imaging cameras

Rosenbauer thermal imaging camera Mi-TIC: WH mode In the beginning, thermal images were colorless. The different temperatures were depicted in shades of gray, with the hottest areas white and the coldest black.

Today, thermal imaging uses color. These facilitate interpretation enormously, as they highlight “points of interest.” This can be the seat of the fire or a person.


Firefighting or search operation?

This is the question that needs to be asked first. Color modes for firefighting operations focus on detecting the source of the fire with very high temperatures, while those for search and rescue operations essentially focus on identifying people in a more or less even temperature environment.

For firefighting: FIRE MODE & SEARCH MODE

Rosenbauer thermal imaging camera Mi-TIC: Fire mode ARGUS cameras, for example, offer the FIRE MODE for this.

The thermal image is always rendered in shades of gray. Coloring is added for dangerous temperatures, i.e., from around 300 °C. The coloration starts with yellow and proceeds gradually through orange to red for temperatures above 1,000 °C. FIRE MODE is particularly suited to fully evolved fires. You can rely on the fact that the colored area presents the greatest danger, and therefore focus firefighting efforts on it.

Rosenbauer thermal imaging camera Mi-TIC: Overhaul mode For smaller fires or follow-up extinguishing, the temperatures are usually lower. In order to take advantage of the yellow-orange-red coloration in this range, the SEARCH MODE was developed.

The coloring does not correspond to a fixed temperature value, but instead it is always the relatively hottest areas that are colored, regardless of the temperature. Caution: A red splash of color needs to be interpreted correctly. In a relatively cold environment this may be a person, but on a fire scene it could be the source of the fire.

For search & rescue missions: MISSING PERSONS MODE

Rosenbauer thermal imaging camera Mi-TIC: Missing persons mode The MISSING PERSONS MODE is especially suitable to search for missing persons. The coloring of the warmest areas is blue. In contrast to the fire modes, the dynamic range is limited to a maximum of 80 °C, which results in a very high contrast. It is therefore optimally suited to recognizing persons who are, for example, hiding in shrubbery.


Which is the right color mode?

Rosenbauer thermal imaging camera Mi-TIC DisplayThe answer is simple: Depending on the application, the different color modes are either perfect or less optimal. One thing is clear, you cannot go wrong. The camera user always gets an image of their surroundings, be it in darkness or in smoke. In the worst case, the camera is not used optimally, but the advantages clearly still outweigh not having one. Only with a thermal imaging camera can you get a clear picture of the operational environment even at zero visibility and locate persons more quickly. In addition, the source of the fire and its spread can be recognized immediately, which ultimately increases one’s own mobility and safety during an operation.



The success of using a thermal imaging camera is directly dependent upon its operator. Proper tactical use during operation, the interpretation of the displayed thermal image on the display, and the limitations of a thermal imaging camera must be learned. Efficient application always depends on the level of training. Hence the principle: training, training, training! Because practice makes perfect.