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07/29/13 Improved Emergency Scene Lighting Options for More Effective Response

Article- July 2013 By Larson

Portable, Rechargeable LED Light Tower

Larson Electronics Portable, Rechargeable LED Light Tower

 Most emergency scene responders and firefighting professionals understand quite well the importance of being able to quickly and effectively assess a scene’s condition in order to correctly determine the best tactical response. Not only this, but that it is also important to understand that most scenes are fluid in nature, meaning it is also necessary to be able to respond reflexively and adaptively as conditions change, and so assessment must continue throughout operations. In order to do this a high degree of visibility is preferred, but since many scenes involve fire, smoke, and nighttime conditions where visibility can impaired or limited, it is necessary to provide on site illumination in order to compensate. For the responders tasked with providing and setting up this emergency scene illumination, the challenges can be significant.

The firefighter or emergency response professional tasked with providing scene illumination faces a number of issues that can make his a daunting job. No single type of illumination can serve in all emergency scene functions, equipment must be easily transported and set up, and it must be powerful enough to provide at the least a minimum level of illumination capable of improving response times and services execution as well as facilitating assessment and safety measures. Thusly, these professionals require equipment that is small or modest in size, capable of producing intense output, fully portable, and capable of operating from available power sources such as vehicles and equipment or its own batteries or scene generators.   

The most common type of illumination used on emergency scenes is the portable flashlight. Whether the scene involves a basic fire response or a large scale recovery and relief effort, the common flashlight will be present in large numbers. In most cases, such flashlights are usually a routine part of the equipment carried by most professionals, from law officers to firefighters, and so will not often fall under the responsibility of a scene lighting professional. However, this does not diminish their importance, and those carrying such sources of illumination should opt for the most effective units that can be afforded. Given this fact, the old style incandescent flashlights of old have pretty much fallen to the wayside in favor of new flashlight technologies which pretty much render them obsolete. New flashlights equipped with LED lamp assemblies provide more intense beam power with greatly enhanced battery longevity and runtimes, making them an ideal choice for first response professionals. Whereas the old 3 D cell police style flashlights which were once the standard in emergency services provided about 20-35 lumens of light output and had a runtime of about 2 solid hours before dimming occurred, a modern 3 D cell LED flashlight produces over 120 lumens and can run for several hours without interruption with no loss in beam power. For power and portability, it is tough to beat the new modern LED flashlights.

One of the most effective ways to quickly provide large scale scene illumination is through the use of portable light towers. Portable towers range greatly in size and power and run from small units the size of a carry on suitcase, to larger wheeled units capable of illuminating very large scenes. Smaller LED towers powered by a rechargeable onboard battery are capable of producing over 5,000 lumens of light output for several hours and because they weigh less than fifty pounds and are fully self contained, are ideal for first responders who need to very quickly illuminate a moderately sized scene. These units can be easily stored behind seats in trucks or within equipment compartments on fleet vehicles and deployed in a matter of literally seconds. For larger sized scenes over 1,000 square feet in size, portable wheeled metal halide and LED lamp equipped towers with an accompanying generator provide 20,000 lumens or more of illumination and are an ideal solution that can run for hours uninterrupted while still being small enough to load in the back of trucks. These mid sized towers are generally of a breakdown design, meaning the mast, base and lamp assembly can be taken apart for more compact storage and transport options, yet once assembled provide the power of a basic full size tower. For large scale illumination of areas an acre or more in size, trailer mounted metal halide towers with dedicated diesel or gas generators are really the best option. Although not as versatile or easily deployed as their smaller brethren, for large scale scenes like disaster or storm relief operations where lighting will need to cover large areas for long periods of time, they provide the best option possible.

Another important yet often overlooked type of scene lighting is the vehicle mounted spotlight. In most cases, the first source of scene illumination is provided by the responders’ vehicles. Additionally, it is often necessary to identify any potential damage to power lines and high level structures that may pose a threat to the safety of anyone arriving on the scene.  Because of this, vehicle mounted spotlights indeed do form a critical part of the emergency responders array of equipment. Although many emergency vehicles are equipped with at least one spotlight, these lights are often perfunctory additions at best. Typically a 25 or 50 watt halogen bulb encased in a metal housing controlled by an interior mounted arm, these lights are fairly effective but limited in their reach and brightness. Newer versions equipped with 35 watt HID bulbs or 60 watt LED assemblies provide a much more intense beam capable of reaching longer distances, while producing a much whiter and sharper light color. Additionally, these updated spotlights can be had in remotely controlled configurations that allow operators to manage their positioning and output using a handheld remote control, ideal for the operator who must quickly leave the vehicle but still requires some method of illuminating a targeted area.

Being able to quickly and effectively illuminate an emergency scene can make a significant difference in the time it takes responders to assess and evaluate scene conditions. Additionally, adequate lighting plays a role throughout the entire incident lifecycle as it is necessary to maintain a solid working awareness of changes in scene status during the course of operations. By utilizing newer lighting technologies and choosing the right equipment for a particular task, responders can ensure improved response times and more successful completion of incident resolution.

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