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Batteries now included: Super Vac explores firefighter tools

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Super Vac discusses firefighter tool advancements in today’s lithium-ion-driven world

Batteries not included is an old disclaimer that seems to be null-and-void in today’s lithium-ion-driven world. In fact, most handheld tools on the fireground are available in some battery-powered variation, and as the technology continues to advance, the number of battery offerings, along with tools, keeps expanding. This in turn, creates a myriad of choices for departments to wade through. Here are a few of the many considerations to consider when considering battery inclusion.

Names you can trust

When it comes to a product, there are just some names you trust. Many fire tools are now powered by name brands that can be found on a store shelf, like DeWalt, Makita or Milwaukee. Millions around the world have come to trust these brands — firefighters included. Not only are these batteries trusted for their performance, but these platforms are designed to power hundreds of tools made by the very same battery manufacturer. As it turns out, many of these tools, like rescue saws, work lights and impact hammers, have a place on the fireground.

Roughly five years ago, several specialised fire equipment manufacturers recognised this shift and began to design their battery-powered tools around these platforms. In fact, Super Vac, a leader in ventilation equipment, introduced the first battery fan to be powered by dual DeWalt FLEXVOLT batteries in 2018. Since that well-received introduction, Super Vac has added models that work with Makita XGT and Milwaukee M18 / M28 batteries, allowing these fans to be compatible with hundreds of other tools.

Expanding on this, Super Vac offers a battery chainsaw conversion kit that turns an ordinary 16” wood-cutting Makita, DeWalt, Milwaukee or Echo battery saw into an overhaul or rapid intervention saw. Typically, battery-powered chainsaws are only ideal for cutting wood, but this kit equips the saw with a carbine tip chain capable of cutting through asphalt shingles, hurricane glass, roofing materials and more. The conversion is just a 2-minute transformation.

We should also mention the Super Vac battery fan can be powered by LUKAS EWXT/E3 batteries, admittedly not a battery you are going to find on just any store shelf, but we will get to proprietary batteries in a minute. First, let us finish our thoughts on universal batteries.

Super Vac is not the only manufacturer to drive this non-proprietary battery trend. Rescue system manufacturers, like AMKUS, TNT, Genesis and Weber, have also tapped into these off-the-shelf battery platforms, manufacturing a whole arsenal of cutters and spreaders that work off these battery favorites. AMKUS marries with DeWalt, while TNT, Genesis and Weber run off Milwaukee batteries.

Even emergency scene lighting manufacturers are getting in on the battery action. Just this year, Command Light (the leader in light towers) introduced a 1.25m tripod that pairs DeWalt FLEXVOLT, Makita XGT, Milwaukee M28 or LUKAS EWXT/E3 batteries with high-lumen LEDs made for the fireground, delivering 14,000-28,000 lumens depending on head selection. LUKAS also offers its own new battery-powered 14,000-lumen scene light, the Scout.

In short, departments can equip their crews with a myriad of lights, fans, saws, hand tools and rescue equipment all powered by the same batteries, making it easier to run their operations. Ask your crew what names they trust, and which tools they want to work together.

Proprietary Vs Non-Proprietary

The tools mentioned so far run on non-proprietary, easy-to-source batteries that are usually economical and can be picked up at the local hardware retailer. That said, there is still a place for proprietary batteries in the industry.

Proprietary batteries are made exclusively by a manufacturer to work only with their tools, and in special instances, with other manufacturers’ tools through licensing agreements. Usually, this equipment is very specialised and requires a more robust battery for the tools’ special operations. Several rescue tool manufacturers, like LUKAS and Holmatro, are renowned for the performance of their proprietary batteries (and tools). Since these specialised batteries are exclusive to the manufacturer, they can be harder to source – but on the flip side, departments can expect proprietary innovations with these proprietary platforms.

Mike Cannon, director of rescue sales for IDEX Fire and Safety, which includes LUKAS, says rescue tool batteries of 10 years ago could only deliver 15-20 cuts per battery charge. Now, these specialised batteries deliver as much as 9 amps, permitting 54 cuts in high-strength steels used in automobiles.

Additionally, the LUKAS battery features a Smart Dashboard display for real-time tool status and provides the industry’s first patented watertight design for underwater-operable use, allowing crews to work on automobiles in ditches, culverts and USAR applications. Holmatro’s Pentheon Series battery touts its own diagnostic software program for battery monitoring, as well as a mechatronic pump that automatically shifts the tool into a higher speed without loss of force to cut high-strength steels.

And as we mentioned, select manufacturers, like Super Vac and Command Light, have been granted special licensing agreements to utilise these proprietary batteries. Super Vac offers a 16”, 18” and 20” variable-speed fan that uses HURST EWXT/E3 batteries, while those same batteries power the new Command Light Trident Tripod with Akron Revel fixtures or a Feniex light bar.

“Having a mobile light bar alone has many departments intrigued,” Command Light President Roger Weinmeister said after the Trident Tripod was unveiled at FDIC International 2022. “With first responder fatalities on the rise because of distracted drivers, departments are looking for more ways to alert drivers to the hazards ahead, and now, they will have a battery-powered traffic advisor as a quick, deployable option to keep crews safe.”

In the end, it is important to ask yourself what kind of performance you expect out of the tool, and what kind of run times you need to get the job done. And if you feel more confident in your battery tool knowing it can run off a back-up power sources, look for built-in AC options in select equipment, like fans and lights. Finally, weigh your propriety selection against the interchangeability your department might need.

Battery-Powered Planning

Creating a battery-powered arsenal requires planning. How will you keep equipment charged? Will you incorporate charging stations into your truck or at the station? How many back-up batteries will you keep on-hand? Will you allow crews to swap batteries with other tools, if necessary? Will you spec proprietary battery-powered rescue tools with other non-proprietary tools so you’re certain no one ever runs off with the rescue tool batteries? Do you anticipate long scenes that will require shore power operation? In short, like all your equipment, make sure your battery-powered tools are always ready to go.

Aside from equipment preparation, you will find that you can plan and organise space differently around these battery-powered tools. Lighter and more compact, this equipment often frees up space in already-compact vehicles. Let us go back to that Super Vac battery PPV. At 580 mm x 585 mm x 305 mm and just 20 kgs, Super Vac’s smallest battery fan can be stored on its side, and even upright, it is practically the size of a Honda portable generator. And speaking of generators, plan on ditching the expensive generator, along with power cords and hydraulic hoses that operate your old equipment – with all that extra space, you can stage your universal battery-powered tools in one truck compartment.

Your operations may even change. First-due engines can now run with fans on their apparatus because these battery-powered PPVs are smaller than old gas fans typically relegated to the second response unit. Additionally, engines are not usually equipped with light towers because of space limitations, but now, with compact, battery-powered tripods, there is no reason not to get light where it is needed most.

Still Not Sold On Battery Technology?

If you are still mulling over the switch from gas, electric or hydraulic power sources to battery, consider what there is to gain and lose.

Crews gain more time when deploying this battery-powered equipment, and during the Golden Hour when the first 60 minutes of an incident are the most critical to patient survival you will welcome the maneuverability and ease of starting any of these battery tools. Plus, there are no more constraints of power cords or hydraulic hose lengths during those vital moments. In short, departments gain vital time and extended reach with battery operations.

Now, what do you lose? The messy maintenance that comes with petrol and hydraulic tools, plus products of combustion that can adversely affect air quality, even when catalytic converters are used. Even after use, storing this equipment can contaminate apparatus compartments with their fumes and bad carcinogens. Also, with battery tools, crews can say goodbye noise pollution which can adversely affect fireground communication. Meanwhile, the decibel reading for Super Vac’s 18” variable-speed battery fan produces an 85 dB reading at 1 meter in front of the fan, and 75 dB from 3 meters, which is only slightly louder than the sound of a showerhead makes. With quieter equipment comes improved communication. With so much to gain, it’s no wonder batteries have become the inclusion on the fireground.

This article was originally published in the June edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.