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Derek Box, Marketing Manager at Nightstick, looks at intrinsically safe vs explosion-proof lighting for hazmat response teams

When it comes to lighting in hazardous environment emergencies, there are two established industry designations used by professionals: Intrinsically Safe (IS) and Explosion-Proof (XP). While both types of lighting provide protection against potential explosions, there are distinct advantages to using IS lighting over XP lighting that need to be understood when it pertains to effective emergency response.

First, it is vital to understand the critical differences between the two protection methods. By design, XP lighting is constructed to contain a potential explosion within the XP enclosure (housing), preventing an explosion from spreading to the surrounding area. XP lighting is traditionally built using large metal enclosures made from heavy materials such as stainless steel or other alloys.

Due to the power required, XP lighting is often directly connected utilising a continuous power source through specialised cables and connectors. These cable connections present severe limitations in portability and physical range of operation due to the size of the hazardous area, which may be unknown or rapidly changing due to weather or other conditions. It’s impractical to expect a hazmat team to carry hundreds of feet or, in some situations, even miles of XP cables and remain nimble.

IS lighting, on the other hand, is purpose-built and designed specifically to prevent an explosion from occurring in the first place. This is why the word “intrinsic” is used. IS lighting products are deliberately created to restrict electrical energy to a level below the ignition point of all but the most exotic hazardous materials. This, therefore, eliminates any potential spark or ignition source from the equation. IS lighting is constructed from lightweight, non-conductive engineered polymers with anti-static electricity additives and powered by alkaline or rechargeable LiPo or Li-Ion batteries for peak performance.

A key advantage of IS lighting is that it is far less bulky and more compact than XP lighting. The large XP enclosures, heavy fixtures, and cables can be extremely difficult to set up quickly in an emergency situation. IS lighting, on the other hand, using primarily modern LED technology, is small and lightweight, and can be deployed almost instantly and ready to use in response to a hazardous environment emergency.

Additionally, IS lighting is more flexible than XP lighting. Since it is portable and more compact, it can be used in a wider variety of conditions and locations. It can also be used in more locations where XP lighting may not be practical, such as in confined spaces, large areas, or places with limited or no ventilation. Agility on the scene is what intrinsically safe lighting is designed to deliver.

Firefighters vs. Hazmat Response Teams

Firefighters and hazmat (hazardous materials) response teams are critical emergency response teams that help protect the public from danger. While both teams may respond to similar emergencies, they have distinct differences in terms of their roles, responsibilities, and training. Let’s explore the differences between a professional Firefighter and a Hazmat Responder.

Professional firefighters are almost always the first responders for emergencies such as structure fires, car accidents, medical emergencies, and more. They are responsible for the on-site rescue, providing immediate medical care, and putting out fires. Emergency response work is potentially dangerous in unpredictable environments. This is why preventable variables must not be introduced when the primary goal is to save lives and protect property.

Hazmat Response Teams, on the other hand, specialise in responding to incidents that involve hazardous liquids, gases, or solids. These incidents can be limited to a specific location or cover large areas. Hazmat teams are often called in before a fire or explosion occurs to investigate suspicious spills and leaks at facilities that are known to contain dangerous, explosive, or poisonous chemicals. These locations can be in built-up urban areas or remote locations like a train derailment with unknown cargo, further complicating response time without having the right equipment ready.

A critical difference between Firefighters and Hazmat Response Teams is their training. Professional firefighters receive a broad range of training that covers many different emergency situations. They must be able to respond quickly to emergencies and make split-second decisions and are trained to use a variety of tools and equipment, such as hoses, axes, and ladders, to fight fires and rescue people. This is why firefighters receive elemental training in identifying possible hazmat conditions and how to respond until specialised hazmat teams arrive on scene.

Hazmat response teams, in sharp contrast, receive specialised training in dealing with hazardous materials. This includes extensive in-depth training in the identification of hazardous substances, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and specialised tools and equipment to contain and control spills. Hazmat responders also undergo rigorous training in the decontamination of personal property and equipment, as well as the handling, storage, maintenance, and safe disposal of hazardous materials.

Another key difference between traditional firefighters and hazmat response teams is their equipment. Firefighters use conventional equipment to save lives and protect property. They also utilise personal protective equipment, such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) fire-resistant helmets, boots, and turnout gear, to protect themselves from heat and flames. 

Hazmat Response Teams use specialised equipment to handle hazardous materials. This can include sealed protective clothing, respiratory protection, chemical-resistant suits, and specialised tools for sampling and analysis. Hazmat teams may also use containment and control equipment, such as booms, barriers, and absorbents, to prevent the spread of hazardous materials.

Finally, traditional firefighters and hazmat response teams have different roles and responsibilities. Traditional firefighters are responsible for responding to a wide range of emergencies, including fires, car accidents, and medical emergencies. They work closely with other emergency responders, such as police officers and paramedics, to provide a coordinated response to emergencies.

Hazmat response teams, however, are responsible for responding specifically to incidents involving hazardous materials. They work closely with other emergency responders, such as firefighters and police officers, to provide a coordinated response to hazardous materials incidents. They may also work with other agencies and other organisations to ensure that dangerous materials are correctly disposed of, and the incident site is clean.

Lighting for Firefighters vs. Hazmat Response Teams

When it comes to emergency situations, lighting is a crucial factor that plays a significant role in ensuring the safety of responders and the public. In particular, firefighting and hazmat response teams require specialised lighting equipment to address their unique needs. Let’s explore the key differences between firefight and hazmat response team lighting equipment.

Firefighting lighting equipment is designed to provide illumination in the smoky, low-visibility conditions that are common in firefighting operations. The primary purpose of firefighting lighting equipment is to assist firefighters in locating victims, identifying hazards, and navigating through hazardous environments.

The most common types of firefighting lighting equipment are:

  • Bunker gear angle lights.
  • Helmet-mounted lights.
  • Area lights.
  • Tripod-mounted lights to illuminate larger areas.

One of the critical differences between firefighting lighting equipment and hazmat response team lighting equipment is the safety certification rating. The need for a hazardous environment safety rating is less important in a situation where a fire is already present, and the primary goal of a firefighter is to isolate and extinguish a fire. Additionally, firefighting lights are designed to be waterproof and resistant to extreme temperatures to ensure they can withstand the heat of a fire.

Hazmat response teams are responsible for responding to incidents involving hazardous materials such as chemicals, gases, and other dangerous materials. Hazmat response team lighting equipment is specifically designed with the highest levels of safety certification. These teams often arrive to investigate a suspected leak or other unusual circumstances. Ensuring they do not cause a fire or explosion is a critical part of their work. 

One of the primary differences between hazmat response team lighting equipment and firefighting lighting equipment is the safety certification level. Hazmat response teams require IS lighting to prevent the ignition of flammable gases and vapors that may be present in the environment. These specialised lights are water, gas, and dustproof and are designed to prevent sparks and heat from igniting hazardous materials.

Hazmat response team lighting equipment also tends to have a somewhat lower brightness level than firefighting lighting equipment because of the requirements to certify the lights, as IS requires lower power and temperature levels.

Traditional firefighters and Hazmat response teams are both critical emergency response teams that play essential roles in protecting the public from danger. While they may respond to similar emergencies, they have distinct differences in terms of their roles, responsibilities, and training. Traditional firefighters are responsible for responding to a wide range of emergencies. At the same time, Hazmat response teams specialise in responding to incidents involving hazardous materials and explosive atmospheres. Understanding these differences is vital for anyone who may need to call on these emergency responders in the event of an emergency.

The quality of IS equipment is vital in potentially explosive environments. One must ensure their lighting is manufactured by a reputable company with documented experience in creating IS products. Because of the knowledge, time, and expense required to engineer and produce IS products, a very limited number of companies can achieve this.

Nightstick is a global manufacturer of Intrinsically Safe portable LED lighting products that exceed industry standards in performance, quality, and user safety. From penlights to floodlights, above ground or below ground, Nightstick has you covered with over 50+ unique portable lighting products for every niche application. Focus on completing your job with confidence, knowing your equipment was designed and rated for the highest safety levels.

When Life Depends on Light, choose Nightstick! Visit www.nightstick.com for more information.

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

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