What purpose does your flashlight serve?

Lieutenant Walt Lewis from Orlando Fire sent in these thoughts answering the importaint question:
What purpose does your flashlight serve?

Most every firefighter carries a flashlight when they are working. Most every good firefighter carries two, and knows what they are best used for. The intent of this article is to condone the use of at least one, but preferably two dependable lights to enhance our work efforts, safety and efficiency.

Why a light? The answer should be obvious- so we can see. When we can see, we can do our job faster. But not only are we able to do our job faster because the visibility is there, but because we have more confidence. When we have visibility and confidence, we can conduct our business more efficiently- in other words, search more effectively and determine victims from similar items.

Another purpose for the light, is in the case where the thermal imager we are using craps out. Since we shouldn’t rely completely on TIC use, and we should maintain orientation, the flashlight would be very beneficial in the event our “eyes” go dim. In that event, we resort back to “old school” tactics of search.

One other consideration for the illumination is not only for ourselves, but so that others can see us. Whether it is a commander from the outside monitoring our progress, other members inside, or victims calling out to us, the light from us can serve many purposes.

But what kind of light should I use? Well, it depends on what you are doing. Given the job tasks assigned to you (usually) and what is anticipated to be done. The reason often needed is to perform a scan search. The light hanging from a strap across the shoulder and down to the waist, or simply from a truck belt works well. Some like it on the right side, others on the left. Personally, mine is suspended on my left side, from a truck belt. It hangs by a d-ring, that when pulled hard enough, can break free from the handle, allowing me to escape from it being entangled if such a circumstance occurred. Being an Engine officer (but a Truck guy at heart), the hoseline is usually over my right hip when backing up my nozzleman. Having it on the left side allows me to provide better lighting options for my usual work being done.

Either side allows the user to see easily when duck-walking, or crouching. When crawling, or flat down, then only one side is lit, but something is better than nothing. However, other things are better than half-lit. Being able to ditch it is a big consideration. Being fairly lightweight is another selling point. A favorite about the version I use is the light blue LEDs on the back, for various reasons.

When the smoke is so thick that visibility is only inches and when the heat has you that low, a simple hand held light works wonders. One that is simply used with a glove hand is ideal. An idea I picked up from a previous partner (Eng Mike Horn, may he rest in peace) is to wrap the handle of the flashlight like you would a halligan. One step better, is to have the oxygen tubing end at the push button to activate the light, so that in a hurry, with gloves on, and in the dark, I can get my light going. This one, I keep in my right pant pocket. Being overly cautious (to some), I have three of these lights, so that one can be in the charger, one in my pocket and the other suspended from my radio strap (which I don’t use during fires- another discussion). This light works great so that I can be belly down, searching, find an object of interest (a possible child, a doll, a pillow-whatever) that can be brought up to your mask, inspected and determined whether to keep it, or return it.

Lots of firefighters have the 90 degree lights hanging from their coat, such as the Streamlight Survivor or the Pelican Big Ed. Both serve well, but if your department provides them like mine, be careful of the continuous coat ride. That’s when the firefighter working the shift before yours has the light on his coat for the 24 hours. Then at shift change, it goes in the charger for 5 minutes, until you put it on your coat. The cycle repeats until someone realizes that the battery has hardly any power and the light goes dim within moments, requiring a full charge, if not a battery replacement.

This light works great, so long as your chest can point in the direction you are operating. You should use caution if this is your only source of light, as for when the need to go prone occurs (and it will) the source of illumination will dissipate, if not disappear. It works really well for the accountability issue. Others can see you, where you are operating, and find your front quickly in the event you go down.

Lastly, one common location for a light is on the helmet. I’ve seen all kinds of helmet mounted lights- from center helmet rock climbing type to under brim mounted pen-sized to the Garrity Life Light. As a kid growing up and reading Firehouse magazine, I remember the FDNY firefighter who had two of them on his helmet, because they work so well. It looked pretty cool and has seemed the mark of an experienced firefighter. I’ve had one on my helmet for long time but I’d only seem to remember to turn it on after the fire was over. I’ve seen many firefighters use their brim mounted light with success. The good thing is that it points in the direction you are usually looking. The bad is that when the smoke is very thick, it tends to refract the light back at the user. With it being so close to the eyes, it will inhibit operations momentarily or completely depending on the remedy needed.

Mine serves me well to let me know how hot it was. After the fire, I turn it on and monitor overhaul or whatever other tasks we are performing, then see if it melted. During the fire, however, it serves as a landmark for my helmet band where my cut nails are stored, so that I can grab them easily with a gloved hand.

I haven’t tried the rock climbing type, but they seem cumbersome and look kind of silly, honestly. The helmet band LED lights don’t seem too good either. For the light in the eyes problem noted above. Maybe they work great- perhaps a reader can advise.

In any event, I hate to look like a UFO when working, but my lights seem to work for me, for when I need them and for why. I use them accordingly, but everyone has their own niche as to why they do things. Some folks just do it, because others do it too. Knowing what and why makes us educated firefighters. Having a good, working light will certainly help us be safer, more efficient, educated firefighters.