The call comes in that there’s a house on fire in a nearby neighborhood. Possible victims inside. You and your team throw on your turnout gear and head out, sirens blaring. Your heart’s pumping, adrenaline flowing, but you’re ready because you’ve trained for this.
As you search for possible victims, the smoke is blinding. You have your flashlight, but it’s of little use, only seeming to make the situation worse and less visible, like high beams in fog when driving.
You’re frustrated because you can’t see at all through the smoke and smog, only able to really see the light from your fellow firefighter’s flashlight next to you. It’s then that you realize this is no good and something has to change. You must find a flashlight that can cut through the smoke so that you have the best possible chance to find potential victims and rescue them.
Sound familiar? Perhaps this has happened to you, or one of your colleagues has related just such a story.
Although there are other aspects to consider, when the question arises – what do firefighters need in a fire flashlight – the most important factor is the ability to help see through low-visibility conditions.
Without being too dramatic, a flashlight can certainly be the difference between life and death, not only for potential victims you’re trying to rescue, but also for firefighters themselves. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and disoriented in a smoke-filled environment, so having a flashlight you can rely on to help you navigate and find your way in and out of spaces is critical.
The first thing to consider when buying a fire flashlight is brightness.
Normal flashlights usually have either a focused beam and/or a floodlight pattern. For firefighting, a focused beam is the way to go, as it will more easily cut through smoke, whereas a floodlight pattern’s beam will illuminate too much of the area, only making it more difficult to see.
A majority of flashlights have LED bulbs, while others come with incandescent bulbs. As with most things, you’ll find a group of firefighters who swear LED is the way to go, and others who say LED offer little help and incandescent is the preferred choice.
Many say that whether LED or incandescent, white bulbs cause the light to reflect on the smoke and thus render them ineffective. Conversely, yellow bulbs are popular because, with a focused beam, they cut through the smoke for a clearer view.
The brightness of flashlights is measured in lumens, which is the “total quantity of visible light emitted by a source.” For a flashlight to be effective in a firefighting environment, you want to look for one with at least 200 lumens. This ensures it has enough brightness to see in very dark spaces, as well as smoke-filled rooms.
The likelihood that you’ll drop your flashlight is good, so you need a flashlight that can take a licking and keep on ticking, so to speak. With the probability of being dropped, bumped, and banged, as well as being around extremely hot temperatures in addition to water and other elements, you want a flashlight that possesses extreme durability.
When shopping for a flashlight, look for one that’s constructed of tough nylon polymers. Furthermore, you should also check for terms like flame- and heat-resistant, as well as water and weatherproof and impact-resistant.
Although a heavier-duty flashlight may increase the cost a bit, the benefit of its added durability certainly makes the cost worth it.
With heavy turnout gear, a helmet, oxygen tank, and everything else a firefighter has to handle, the last thing you want to do is add unnecessary weight to your person. However, a higher quality, heavier-duty flashlight will tend to do just that. Therefore, you must decide how much extra weight you’re willing to carry in a flashlight, typically around a pound.
Remember though, that this is a potentially life saving tool, so the cost of that extra weight more than likely outweighs the downside.
Turning the Flashlight On and Off
This may seem like a trivial detail, that is, until you’re in the heat of the action in full turnout gear with cumbersome gloves on both hands, and you discover you can’t quite get that on and off switch to work with those gloved hands.
Look for a flashlight specifically built for firefighters, one that mentions an easy-to-use push button switch that can be used without delay or hassle, even while wearing gloves.
Right Angle Lights and Mounting
Many of today’s top firefighting flashlights are right angle LED spotlights, which can be easily held in one hand to see through smoke and smog, and provide a focused beam. These flashlights, designed with firefighters in mind, check all the boxes – brightness, durability, weight, and an easy on/off switch for using with gloved hands.
They’re also heat and impact-resistant, and they come with a rechargeable battery pack and charger, as well as a convenient docking station.
An easy way for firefighters to use their flashlight while keeping their hands free to perform other functions is to mount, or clip, the flashlight onto either their coat, or more commonly their helmet. This is a popular option for firefighters, as it enables you to shine the beam in any direction you look, and frees up your hands to carry equipment or rescued victims.
Many of these right angle flashlights come with stainless steel clips or carabiners for easy mounting.
Streamlight Vantage 180 Multi-Function Flashlight
Streamlight is an industry leader in flashlights, and this versatile model is a popular choice among firefighters. It produces a radiant 250-lumen beam of light that can be thrown up to 500 feet away for the ultimate in room illumination.
The simple push button allows users to easily switch it on and off, even while wearing gloves. It also comes with a clip so that it easily attaches to your helmet for hands-free use.
Built of lightweight nylon polymer, the flashlight is easy to carry, yet durable enough that it can withstand impacts and wear and tear.
You’re also able to navigate from using it as a handheld flashlight to the aforementioned right angle, meaning its versatility is unmatched.
Fox Fury Breakthrough BT2 Right Angle Light
The Fox Fury Breakthrough flashlight is a compact, right angle light with a 200-lumen beam that helps see through thick smoke. It features three modes – high, low and blinker – making it a versatile option for any situation.
The stainless steel clip allows users to easily attach it to their helmet for hands-free use. It also features their SMO-KUT smoke cutting technology to boost the ability to see through hard-to-navigate, smoke-filled rooms.
It adheres to NFPA 1971-2207 fire resistance standards, and is waterproof and impact-resistant as well.
Streamlight Survivor LED
Another high-quality model from Streamlight, the Survivor LED is once again designed with the firefighter in mind, evidenced by two optional Smoke Cutter® plugs which allow users to customize the beam without changing the light’s output.
It also features a black plug which helps reduce peripheral light for a tighter beam that’s better able to cut through thick smoke.