Today’s firefighter is responsible for more equipment than ever before. Due to the burdensome amounts of gear required to do the job, anything that allows for lighter and smaller profiles would certainly be welcomed.
One of the latest technological advances has entered into lighting tools, that being the transition from incandescent to the use of LEDs (light emitting diodes). LEDs have come a long way, transitioning from indicators to illuminators. We can all identify with the various uses of LEDs in our everyday life. It can be the little red light that shows your TV is on, the green light that tells you your computer is running or the blue light that reminds you your laundry is done. Today, we are seeing increased applications such as LEDs in traffic signals, tail lights of cars, trucks and buses as well as emergency lighting for fire, police and other emergency vehicles. These are all indicators.
There are many benefits that come with LEDs: they are not nearly as fragile as incandescent lamps, do not have a minimal life expectancy (some incandescent flashlight bulbs carry a life of 30 hours compared with 50,000 hours for many LEDs), and are more efficient with batteries and do not produce the high temperature levels seen with incandescent models.
With these added applications came a surge of attention by the LED manufacturers who have developed LEDs to go beyond being solely an indicator and become an illuminator. In the not too distant past the very first LED flashlights were small, amazingly bright keychain type lights (for an LED) that allowed for close-up uses like reading a document, lighting walk spaces, looking for keys in a purse or reading a menu in a romantically lit restaurant. The performance level achieved from LEDs used in personal lighting tools today have surpassed that of the previous versions and are looking to send the incandescent down the same path as the dinosaur and VCR. However, it is important to note that many of the legendary (incandescent) flashlight designs continue to serve a worthy purpose, as they maintain a price advantage over LEDs.
This technology has not only allowed for performance increases of upwards of four to five times the lumens, but has brought with it the ability to create new categories in lighting tools. LEDs are bright enough now to be used in portable area lights, which offer solutions never before seen. Not only are the lights cool-running but very durable. Mixed with a self-contained rechargeable battery, they allow for the elimination of generators, which bring extra bulk, fuels, exhaust, noise, cables and heat concerns.
In addition to the ever-increasing light output, the technology has allowed for increased efficiency of LEDs, which brings longer run times. So we are now seeing increases in lumen output and at the same time, seeing longer run times. This was perceived as impossible in the past, but due to electronic drivers used in LEDs, it is now possible.
Another topic crucial to the fire fighter and rescue person is lighting safety approvals. Because there is the potential for responding to any number of scenarios, it becomes prudent to consider a safety-approved light. Due to the wide variety of environments there are a wide variety of approvals. All details regarding safety approvals are not covered in this article. Basics are provided and it is strongly recommended that further information be sought.
There are a variety of standards that exist and vary from country to country but we will use North America as a reference. Hazardous locations are categorised, following guidelines set down in the NEC (National Electric Code), by four criteria: Class – defines the nature of the potentially hazardous materials that are present; Division – classifies the likelihood of sufficient concentrations of the hazardous materials being present to pose a risk of fire or explosion; Group – categorises specific hazardous materials within each class by similarity of their properties or characteristics; and Ignition Temperature – hazardous materials according to the temperature at which they will ignite. One very good resource for a more in-depth explanation on safety approvals can be found at http://www.pelican.com/safety . There, you can review and download a safety approval white paper.
For some time, there has been a need to create a performance standard. In the past you may remember seeing flashlights reported in candlepower. This created a problem when trying to determine the performance as manufacturers were using a variety of different reporting methods and most end users were unaware of any candlepower rating system. Today flashlights are being reported in lumens, which is a measurable unit via a light sphere. The need for additional performance reporting such as run times, beam distance and water ingress, set the stage for a standard to be established.
So, in 2009 a variety of flashlight manufacturers collectively came together and created the first such standard, called the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) / NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) FL-1 standard. This standard covers a variety of performance areas, namely: light output, run time, beam distance, peak beam intensity, impact resistance and water resistance. There are icons used to reference each performance area and are identifiable by the ANSI FL 1 branding. This standard is adopted on a voluntary basis and is self regulated. It has proven to be of great value and can be referenced by any end user for consistent, reliable and comparable performance figures.
[su_quote]What is important is that the potential hazardous environment is evaluated to determine what, if any, approval is needed prior to entering and match that with the appropriate light.[/su_quote]
There are multiple applications for flashlights in the fire and rescue workplace. Some of the more common types are head lights, hand held, right angle (hands-free) and lantern style lights. When selecting a light you should consider the size, weight and performance of each. Again, today the technological advances have allowed for smaller, lighter weight, yet higher performance lights.
Handheld lights come in variety of shapes and sizes but AA (typically three to four cells) and C (typically two to three cells) alkalines are the common battery of choice. There are a variety of switch designs to consider. Some are one-hand-activated where others require two hands to activate but typically will offer a higher level of water ingress protection. Another innovative feature is the use of photoluminescents (glow in the dark materials) that help locate an accidental loss of a light in the off position.
When considering a head light, it is best to avoid too heavy a light as it may put undue stress on your neck. An articulating head is beneficial because it allows the beam to be adjusted to the sought after angle. High beams and low beams are also a value as too much light in close up applications may be self-blinding and an unnecessary waste of battery life. Depending on preference and helmet style, a wide variety of straps and side attachments are available as the most common ways to secure it.
Lantern style lights typically are heavier and larger in size but have the ability to produce a brighter light beam and supply a longer run time. There are new model lantern style lights now available that are substantially lighter in weight (3 time lighter in some cases), yet produce industry leading lumen performance. A lantern style light should enable a better penetrating beam for smoke filled conditions, use in crawling situations and can be used to mark an egress location, identifying
a safe exit.
Right-angle flashlights are designed to offer a hands-free application. Certainly, there are many times when two hands are needed. In these situations, you are able to keep a path illuminated while working with other equipment. Some of the latest designs in right-angle lights offer multiple features such as high/low beams, downcast and signalling. The high beam would be used for maximum illumination where the low beam would allow for a reasonable amount of light but extend the battery life. The downcast light is used to illuminate a path to minimise stepping into any unwanted areas, as well as used when reading or writing reports without a blinding effect. Signalling, also a benefit can be used in a variety of applications.
Another noteworthy feature you will now see on firefighter and rescue worker lights is battery level indication. Seeing how the lights used in our industry are truly “tools of the trade” and instruments we rely on, it makes sense to have some form of battery level indication. You will see some lights have an illuminated switch that supplies the battery level with varying degrees of colour. For example, green would represent 100 percent to 50 percent, amber would represent 50 percent to 25 percent and red would represent below 25 percent. Other designs will have multiple LED indicators that diminish with use. Still others offer a flashing signal to indicate a low battery level. Regardless of the type, battery level indication is of great value.
Beyond head lights, hand held, right-angle and lantern lights is area lighting. Area lighting systems of the past were powered by noisy, polluting, fuel-driven generators that emitted toxic fumes and heat, posing serious safety problems in emergency sites. A superior alternative is area lighting that offers users the ability to illuminate large work areas without the fuel consumption, noise and air pollution associated with industrial diesel generator-powered lighting towers of the past. Lighting up ravines, confined spaces or any other place your apparatus can’t go is made easy with the right area lighting system.
Now, more than ever, lighting products include increased options with improved performance and additional features, which makes it all the more critical to take extra care when choosing personal lighting tools. It could literally mean life or death for you and those you work to protect.
For further information, go to www.pelican.com