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Feeling the Heat during training – manikins with Thermal Imaging Capabilities

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Often in search and rescue operations, time is critical. The faster a casualty is located, the more likely it is to see a positive outcome and technology is increasingly playing an important role in improving the speed and efficiency of search and rescue.

In recent years, thermal imaging technology has come on in leaps and bounds with some fantastic equipment available on the market…but the technology is only as good as the person using it and therefore, regular training is an essential part of the process when introducing new tech into operations.

By default, poor visibility environments are dangerous places…and the same goes for search and rescue operations in the great outdoors. It is often unsafe and impractical to expect a volunteer to ‘hang around’ waiting for rescue teams to practise the ‘search’ element of their training. No one wants to wait in a smoke-filled building (even artificial smoke from our Fireware fire simulation kits) or wait patiently on an exposed mountain slope, or crouch under rubble for Urban Search and Rescue.

As manufacturers of rescue training manikins for the past quarter of a century, we have been asked many times in recent years about creating a thermal imaging manikin which would safely replace the requirement for volunteer casualties in complex or dangerous search and rescue training.

After researching thermal imaging within the search and rescue sector, we realised that we could bring this capability to our manikins, without the need for a new manikin model. Instead, we created a thermal imaging suit, allowing for faster and more accurate body searches in poor visibility environments within the fire service, including the wide range of search and rescue operations undertaken.


Creating a Realistic and Safe Casualty

Realism in training is something we constantly strive to achieve at Ruth Lee Ltd. All of our products are created with the aim of providing a realistic training scenario and our range has developed over the years to encompass many aspects of operational firefighter training – from BA Snatch rescues and Fitness Assessment, to technical rescues such as confined space, flood rescue and working at height. So, the development of a thermal suit had this same end goal – to provide an accurate representation of a human form visible to thermal imaging equipment.

The Ruth Lee Thermal Suit was extensively tested by several UK based Fire and Rescue Services, including Severn Park Training Centre. During testing, the FLIR Thermal Imaging Cameras were used.


“Students have been impressed with how realistic the casualty looks. We were even accused of having an instructor acting as a casualty”.

Ian Hughes | Watch Manager Trainer at Severn Park Fire & Rescue Training Centre


The Thermal Suit can be used with any adult Ruth Lee Manikin (upto 90kg) and can be pre-heated prior to use, maintaining an effective heat signature for approximately  1-2 hours (depending on ambient temperature – the battery life will deplete faster in colder temperatures), or alternatively, the battery is attached in a holster on the side of the leg.

Having the battery attached prolongs the usage time to approx. 3-4 hours (depending on ambient temperature), especially useful for search and rescue (SAR) or Urban SAR operations.


On land and at sea…

The capability for Thermal Imaging Training doesn’t just stay on dry land! Therefore, as part of the development process, we also created a thermal imaging hood which can be worn by any adult Ruth Lee Water Rescue manikin, and which allows water rescue teams search large expanses of open water with a visible heat signature tested up to 2000ft!


For more information about either of these two great new products call 01490 413 282 and we would be happy to set up a demonstration or discuss your requirements

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