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Performance Metrics for Fire Fighting Thermal Imaging Cameras: Small- and Full-Scale Experiments (NIST TN 1499)



Francine K. Amon, Nelson P. Bryner, Andrew J. Lock, Anthony P. Hamins


Thermal imaging cameras (TIC) are becoming an important tool for many firefighters and other first responders. However, due to the lack of performance standards for TIC, a wide variety of designs and capabilities are provided to end users with little consistency in reported performance. In order to understand the performance characteristics of TIC during fire fighting applications, it is critical that a set of performance metrics and standard testing protocols be developed to allow the fire service to evaluate TICs. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been conducting research to characterize and understand TIC performance. This work began with an assessment of the thermal imaging needs and activities of first responders. Existing standards were collected and reviewed to ensure that the recommended testing conditions in this work are consistent with standards on other first responder equipment that are exposed to similar operating conditions, as well as standards and test protocols on infrared cameras that are used in other applications, when appropriate. A survey of the literature was also performed to explore existing work in which the fire environment was well characterized and pertinent to TIC testing. The consolidation of all of this information, e.g., first responder feedback, literature search, and full- and bench-scale testing results, provided a basis for defining testing conditions that challenge TIC in meaningful ways. Performance metrics that describe TIC image contrast, effective temperature range, spatial resolution, image nonuniformity, and thermal sensitivity were selected or developed, based on an analysis of the information gathered. These imaging performance metrics and test methods have been provided to standards development organizations, such as National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and ASTM International.
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1499
Report Number


cameras, thermal imaging, fire fighting, experiments, fire fighters, first responders, fire departments, standards, NFPA 1801, surveys, test facilities, performance metrics, test methods, FT-IR, fire hoses, temperature effects, smoke, thermal sensitivity, uncertainty


Amon, F. , Bryner, N. , Lock, A. and Hamins, A. (2008), Performance Metrics for Fire Fighting Thermal Imaging Cameras: Small- and Full-Scale Experiments (NIST TN 1499), Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed June 23, 2024)


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Created July 1, 2008, Updated November 10, 2018