A key factor when choosing a personal flashlight for firefighting is versatility – from brightness and runtime to multiple operating modes – as leading provider of professional lighting tools, Streamlight® Inc. explains.
The ‘intended use’ of a flashlight can vary from very niche to broad. For example, if all you want is a soft light to read a book at night, there are low-lumen bookmark lights which offer exactly that. In a similar vein, if you’re after an intense light that can locate a person six football pitches away, you can find one with relative ease. However, both lights would be impractical for almost any other scenario. On the other hand, you might find a flashlight that will deliver mediocre results for seemingly endless uses, but you’ll often find yourself wanting more (or less) light.
As the role of a firefighter is highly varied, having the ‘best’ lighting device for every potential scenario would require a very impractical utility belt, at the very least – and settling for mediocre is not an option when lives are at stake. What every firefighter needs is 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 48-year history to shape our products and deliver lighting tools that have been proven to help save lives.
So, 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, that all you need is a flashlight that clips to your jacket or gear at a 90° 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 and have you given enough thought to the runtime, 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 save 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 overdo 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 USB HAZ-LO Headlamp is such a product that falls into that territory, offering a runtime of 13 hours while providing 250 lumens of light – enough to flood a whole room. An aesthetically similar headlamp 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.
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.
High-performance lights – like our Survivor® and 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.
LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) offer the flexibility to adjust a flashlight’s output and beam pattern 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 multifunction 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.
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 model again, this features a high, super-bright beam that delivers 175 lumens over 405m with a runtime of 3.5 hours. Its low mode, on the other hand, delivers 60 lumens over 237m but increases the runtime up to 13 hours. It also features a flash mode for signalling (5-hour runtime) and a ‘Moonlight’ mode which provides low-level lighting that will run for a staggering 15 days. 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.
There are several types of location 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.
For more information, go to www.streamlight.com