By Jim Sideras
A helmet light is one of the "tools of the trade" for almost every firefighter. From the early days of cheap disposables to the new high-tech lights, there are some basic things to bear in mind.
Here are the main considerations for your new helmet light purchase.
1. Light source – incandescent and LED
The light source is one area that is constantly changing. Incandescent bulbs have gotten brighter while the technology regarding LED lighting is improving very fast.
Incandescent is the typical light used in flashlights. These lights have been in use for years and have a proven track record.
- Superior performance when cutting through smoke
- Bright candle power (lumens)
- Xenon gas filled bulbs are extremely bright and far exceeding conventional bulbs
- Shorter battery life. Run time on AA can be 4 -5 hours
- Cost to replace bulb or light module can be expensive, depending on the bulb
- As battery decreases, the light losses brightness
LED lights are growing in popularity and the technology is making them a popular choice.
- New technology is making LEDs almost at bright as incandescent. They will likely continue to advance.
- Long battery life. The normal battery life is around 15-20 hours. I personally tested this claim on a couple of lights and they did run continuously for the advertised time.
- Light bulb can last for more than 25,000 hours of use
- May lack the smoke cutting ability. However, this is often related to the reflector not being smooth, as any texturing causes light to scatter.
- Not all LED lights are designed for firefighting. Some may have several LEDs that offer a wide beam that is not effective for firefighting.
- Some LEDs may have several light bulbs but these may not be as bright as those with one, bright LED bulb.
2. Lights should be waterproof.
This may require some regular maintenance of O-rings to ensure light function over a number of years
3. On-off switches.
These can vary greatly. Some lights have push button switches, while others require the bezel to be rotated. Check to make sure it is easy to turn on while in the helmet mount. Also, keep in mind that you must be able to turn on the light with gloves on.
The helmet mount is how the light is secured to the helmet. There are several methods available.
• The common thick rubber band or inner tube. These are very inexpensive, but do not allow a great deal of flexibility in adjusting the beam.
• Metal or plastic mounting brackets attach to the helmet and offer the user the ability to set the light beam to any desired position. Some brackets have the light positioned off the side of the helmet. This position can cause the light to catch on debris and doors, especially in tight quarters.
• Mounts or light holders that keep offer a lower profile will prevent the light from being moved or damaged.
5. Color of body
The color of the flashlight body is a personal choice. However, it is a consideration that is more than a fashion statement. In the event the light comes off the helmet, a brightly colored flashlight body will be easier to locate in a sooty environment or in a crowded jump seat of a fire truck. Consider putting a strip of reflective tape on the flashlight; it makes finding it easier if the light comes off the helmet.
These are also an important consideration. There are various ways to power flashlights. The most commonly used battery is AA. However, some lights may use AA alkaline, lithium, and rechargeable batteries. Some lights recommend a certain type of battery.
That is a consideration when determining how much it will cost to operate the light over a number of years. Rechargeable units can be a problem because they require the light to be removed to be recharged and can be easily forgotten on the charger. AA alkaline batteries can be purchased anywhere, including local convenience stores, making it easy to replace dying batteries.
Helmet-mounted lights are a great tool for firefighters and one piece of equipment that is worth having. These buyer tips offer you some considerations to make a wise choice in your next purchase.
- Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
Jim Sideras is FireRescue1 columnist and a division chief for Sioux Falls, S.D., Fire Rescue. He is a 23-year veteran of SFFR and a registered nurse with a masters of science degree in nursing as a clinical nurse specialist. Jim received the Harvard University Fire Executive Fellowship, and has also completed a human resources program at Cornell University. He is currently in the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer program, and has spoken at several national conferences on emergency medical topics.