Emergency lighting: Let’s get personal

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From brightness and runtime to multiple operating modes, leading provider of high-performance lighting devices, Streamlight® Inc., shares their trusted advice

Every firefighter needs to be able to deploy and trust a personal lighting device that will cover critical tasks excellently so every operation in the dark is a success.

We have worked with countless emergency service professionals in our 50-year history to shape our products and deliver lighting tools that have been proven to help save lives.

Before you begin searching for your optimum personal flashlight, you must pin down what you require the light for and how much versatility you need – otherwise you can be overwhelmed by the vast options available and can inevitably base your final decision on price and aesthetics.

You might initially think, for example, all you need is a flashlight that clips to your jacket or gear at a 90o angle and is bright enough to cast a beam of light in front of you as far as a couple of buildings away.

But what happens when you locate a missing person who is trapped and said light is needed to carefully assess the scene to help remove obstructions and debris throughout the night?

Will it last that long, have you given enough thought to the run time, rechargeability or universal power supplies of your flashlight?

What if the distressed individual is concussed and subsequently suffering from sensitivity to light, does the device feature a low intensity mode?

Are you required to work, and thus, shine a light above or below you – is the head articulating or does it offer a helmet-mounting facility?

Or what if all the above is taking place in a hazardous environment where a non-safety rated light could risk igniting flammable vapours leading to a catastrophic explosion?

There are countless factors to consider when selecting a flashlight.

With a light that checks all the boxes, you can focus your full attention on the task at hand.

Such things like short-life power sources can be avoided if you know what you’re looking for, and there are many options which can make your job easier and ultimately increase the odds of success and saving lives.

So, to help you make more informed decisions, we’ve compiled a condensed list of features and benefits to look out for when selecting a personal lighting device for you or your team.

Brightness and runtime

As you might imagine, brightness and runtime have a close relationship; the brighter something is, the quicker it’s going to fizzle out.

Therefore, it’s important not to over-do the brightness element if you don’t really need it and utilise the different modes available.

Runtime is measured from the initial light output value (30 seconds after the light is turned on with fresh batteries) until the light output drops to 10% of the initial value, measured in hours.

Light output may gradually decrease over time or remain largely constant and then suddenly drop out. A runtime graph, if available, provides the best illustration of the performance of a light over time.

As for brightness, this is measured in ‘lumens’ and stands for the total quantity of emitted light energy from the light source on its highest setting, powered by new or fully charged batteries.

Flashlights can range from lumens in the single digits (great for reading a book) to a terrain-scorching 10,000 lumens.

While these values represent a great comparison tool, they do not tell the whole story about brightness, with beam intensity, distance and type all influencing the effectiveness of a light in different applications.

Of course, the better the technology, the longer the runtime – so even the brightest of flashlights can operate for lengthy periods.

Indeed, this is one factor that will affect the broad price range for what might initially appear to be similar products.

The Streamlight Vulcan® 180 HAZ-LO® ATEX is such a product that falls into that territory, offering a runtime of 16.5 hours while providing 450 lumens of light – enough to flood a whole room.

An aesthetically similar lantern may be half the price, but if it only delivers 40 lumens for 10-hours, it would not be suitable for much other than dimly illuminating a pathway, as it likely won’t offer different modes nor will it perform well in bad weather or hazardous atmospheres.

Batteries: disposable vs chargeable

Power source should be at the top of your checklist when choosing a flashlight, either by way of disposable or rechargeable batteries.

Disposable batteries, either alkaline or lithium, have an excellent storage life – 7 and 10 years respectively.

They generally offer longer runtimes for a given bulb power, are typically lower in initial purchase price, and spares are readily available.

In the long run though, operating costs are considerably higher than rechargeable alternatives.

Rechargeable flashlight batteries can feature extraordinarily low operating expenses – as little as a penny per day – and are well suited for frequent use.

Depending on the model, they often store conveniently in custom charger holders.

Their initial purchase price can be higher, but considerable cost savings are seen over the total life of ownership.

High-performance lights, like our PolyTac 90® X USB, can operate with different fuel type batteries or work as a rechargeable system using universal connections.

As such, these can be plugged into charging ports safely to ensure they are fully powered before every operation.

As with other rechargeable flashlights, the initial purchase price is understandably higher, but there are significant cost savings over the total life of ownership.

You should also look to source devices with battery life indicators. We include them on many of our models, conveniently located inside the button to highlight when batteries need replacing or recharging.

Knowing your device has ample power is one less thing to focus on in an emergency.

LED types

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) offer the flexibility to adjust a flashlight’s output and beam patterns to meet a multitude of needs.

LEDs are of a solid-state construction offering a high-intensity light which lasts up to 100,000 hours.

“Chip On Board” (COB) LEDs are made of multiple LED chips that are packaged together as one lighting module.

When it lights up, it looks more like a lighting panel than multiple individual lights for a smooth, flood beam for up-close work.

Flashlights offering a combination of LEDs and COB LEDs provide a multi-function solution to provide much greater flexibility for the task at hand.

An example would be our Dualie® series of flashlights, which feature dual lighting modes to offer convenient spot and flood lighting from the same device.

This is an intrinsically safe flashlight which allows you to light up what is ahead of you and at your feet at the same time or individually, over long periods of time.

Lighting modes

Having more than one lighting intensity setting can be the difference between success and failure on many levels.

When everything goes to plan, a fixed intensity flashlight can likely stand up to a task for a couple hours.

However, if other factors arise, which they often do, changing between low and high intensity can extend the use of a flashlight considerably, lasting from dusk till dawn with constant use.

Looking at our Survivor® X ATEX model again, this features a high, super bright beam that delivers 250 lumens over 447m with a runtime of 3.75 hours.

Its low mode, on the other hand, delivers 60 lumens over 237m but increases the runtime up to 15 hours.

It also features a flash mode for signalling (8-hour runtime). Lighting modes can also allow you to switch between flood beams – for less intense light over a bigger area – or spot beams – intense light focused on a narrow subject over a greater distance.

Safety ratings

There are several types of locations where it can be extremely dangerous to use any light that has not been specifically designed – and approved – for that location.

Areas such as those with flammable gases, liquids, vapours, or fibres present, which could lead to catastrophic explosions, are incredibly dangerous with the wrong lighting tool.

It is critical that you have a safety-rated flashlight you can trust to operate in these atmospheres, such as our HAZ-LO Division 1 and ATEX safety-rated series.

As manufacturers of the broadest range of professional lighting tools, we understand that the term ‘spoilt for choice’ can certainly be applied when selecting a flashlight.

The options are pretty endless, and this can make your final choice quite difficult, but with thorough understanding, a light that balances the cost against the specification is out there for you.

This exclusive article was originally published in the September 2023 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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