TNT: Tools, News, Techniques

A Different Kind of Light

SureFire's LED flashlights are durable & long-lasting


When we arrive at any emergency scene, the first piece of equipment we should grab off the truck is a high-quality flashlight. Whether we're trying to locate hazards like downed power lines hidden amongst nighttime shadows or victims ejected from their vehicle, a handheld light proves essential for scene efficiency and safety. 

Although there are many handheld flashlights on the market for first responders, we can now equip ourselves with the same light-emitting diode (LED) technology becoming prevalent in emergency vehicle lighting suites. One company that has incorporated the efficiency and durability of LEDs into its line of personal lights is California's SureFire LLC, a longtime producer of tactical flashlights used in law-enforcement and military environments.

SureFire's founder patented the first laser sight for police officers and soldiers in low-light situations, and the same innovative design ideas are apparent in several next generation flashlights. I tested two of the company's handheld, LED-generated light models: the L2 Digital LumaMax and the E2L Outdoorsman.

L2 Digital LumaMax
Powered by two lithium batteries, the L2 Digital LumaMax LED model features a white, five-watt LED. The flashlight itself-a 6-inch-long, trim, cylindrical device-emits a broad, even light pattern in two levels of brightness, 15 or 100 lumens.

The "digital" in its name refers to the product's current regulation circuitry to match the LED's current requirements  with the battery's output to maintain a more consistent level of light output for the useable life of the batteries.

Depressing the end-mounted switch produces instant scene lighting that's unique in appearance (if you haven't seen LED lighting), yet very effective. Twist the end cap to place the flashlight in the constant-on position at either 15 lumens for close-up work, or 100 lumens for full-power applications.

You can fasten the light to your gear with the belt clip or use the lanyard with cinch tightener to secure it around a gloved hand during rescue operations. The lanyard also allows you to clip the light to a rescue harness, leaving it attached and ready for use in a technical terrain or rope-rescue environment.

E2L Outdoorsman
The smaller E2L Outdoorsman operates with a positive click-on/shut-off switch. Although this model's light source (three watts of LED power that produces 30 lumens) is less powerful than the L2 Digital LumaMax, it was more than adequate for illuminating nearby objects on scene or searching a field at a distance prior to the arrival of large-scene lighting. Very much a pocket-sized light, the E2L is 1 inch shorter than the LumaMax and is slightly smaller in diameter. It also comes with a handy steel belt clip.

More Flashlight Features
Both flashlights offer a handy "lockout" feature that allows you to avoid accidentally switching on the light and running down the battery while your gear is stowed. A few quick turns of the tail cap lock the thumb switch in the off position.

SureFire claims its LED lights offer a longer run time than its tungsten-lamp flashlights, which have a one-hour run time. Equipping the lights with lithium batteries also allows extended service and longer shelf life, compared with alkaline battery-powered lights.

The company offers the batteries at discounts online to help reduce your supply officer's acquisition costs. With the typical short-duration scene usage of flashlights, the lithium battery power combined with LEDs should indeed equate to more extensive run times.
I like the smaller size and easy operation of both lights, along with their military specification (MilSpec) durability ratings. Each unit features an aerospace-grade aluminum housing with a positive-grip surface for better handling with gloved hands. 

The fact that both flashlights are O-ring equipped and weatherproof is a plus for public-safety operations; I can use them outdoors in any weather, any time of year, and not worry about damage. Most lights commonly used in fire/rescue operations are equally durable, but the fact that SureFire's flashlights feature LED-generated lighting puts this product line ahead of other brands. Further, both flashlights feature lenses  made of optically coated, tempered Pyrex for additional wear resistance and longevity.

Firefighter/paramedic Dan King has used SureFire lights in fire, rescue and tactical paramedic operations for years. "It's a different kind of light that the LEDs provide-a consistent pattern with no gaps," he says. "And the light seems softer, yet still very effective."

Ergonomics is also a factor in why King chooses SureFire flashlights. "My thumb goes immediately to the switch on the end when I need lighting," King says. "It's much easier access than a side-mounted power switch." The SureFire thumb switch at the end opposite the reflector gives momentary, instant lighting with the push button.

Most high-intensity flashlights generate heat at the lens; these LEDs have the same problem. Also, SureFire lights are not rated intrinsically safe for explosive environments, a feature standard to several other brands of portable lighting used in the fire/rescue industry; SureFire reports it is working on this issue.

Like most pieces of high-quality, high-tech equipment on the public-safety market, these products are not cheap. The LumaMax costs $165;  the E2L Outdoorsman costs $125. However, for personal handheld lighting needs, these rugged, compact and long-lasting SureFire LED flashlights are worth a look.

SureFire LED flashlights

+ LED light source;
+ Smooth/even light pattern with no gaps/spots like traditional flashlights;
+ Longer battery life;
+ Durable/MilSpec housing; and
+ Instant-on/end-mounted or click switch.

- Not rated "intrinsically safe" for explosive environments; and
- Expensive.

SureFire LLC
18300 Mount Baldy Circle
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
Tel: 800/828-8809

Paul M. Ross, Jr. is a firefighter/helitack squad leader and professional writer with 14 years of experience in both Western U.S. wildland firefighting and urban fire-rescue. He lives in St. Louis, Mo., where he is a firefighter/EMT for the Eureka Fire Protection District. Contact him at

Are You Protected?
Report highlights deficiencies in PPE & other safety concepts


A groundbreaking study highlighting the gaps and deficiencies in today's personal protective equipment (PPE) is creating quite a buzz at the federal level and throughout the fire service.

In late July, Unconventional Concepts Inc. (UCI), a professional engineering and scientific consulting firm, released a comprehensive report entitled "The Development of Human Factors Engineering Requirements for Firefighters Protective Equipment." U.S. Fire Administrator David Paulison immediately called the report "required reading for America's fire service."

The First of Its Kind
Created in response to the demand for improved PPE clothing systems, the UCI report offers an unprecedented systems-level assessment of firefighting protection concepts and technologies. "Within the Department of Defense, the key issue in technology transfer programs is to address real needs," says Michael Hopmeier, president of UCI and principal investigator for the report. "We weren't comfortable just transferring technology from the military and other departments to fire."

The report is based on an assessment of relevant research and literature, as well as forums, symposia and conferences. This assessment was completed with the help of an expert panel comprised of representatives from the fire service, emergency medical services, law enforcement and the industrial sector.

"The first step in our effort involved reviewing approximately 50 other studies," says Hopmeier. "The vast majority of earlier works narrowly focused on protection from fires and applications of protective equipment in responding to terrorist incidents. A systems-level assessment that included strategic and political-rather than just tactical-concerns had never been done, and the results were quite surprising." The assessment revealed gaps in the system for providing PPE, from compatibility issues among manufacturers, to lack of standards, to roadblocks set up by the fire-service culture, to failure to address the realities of fire-service work.

Rita Gonzalez, director of the Army's National Protection Center in Natick, Mass., says the study has already caused that facility to re-evaluate its technology transfer priorities and to make new recommendations to the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.

Recommendations for the Fire Service
Gonzalez highlights one key finding from the study: "While much of the U.S. government's development efforts have focused on protecting firefighters from fire, only seven percent of fire responses involve fighting fires, with a significant investment on [chemical and/or biological] protections," she says. "Day-to-day challenges that will be exacerbated in a homeland security operation environment mean we need to take into account the other 93 percent. [Doing so] matters to the firefighter system, and long-term support of that system."

The report includes general recommendations from the panel. Among its observations and recommendations:

  •  Although violence is an escalating threat to firefighters, no standards or studies reflected the threat or need for protection.
  •  Fire-service managers should encourage the development of standards that overcome fire-service culture and traditions that impede equipment development and usage.
  •  More effective biological and chemical protection tailored to probable events are needed, as 70 percent of fire-service responses to biological threats deal with medical incidents, compared with a statistically much smaller incidence of terrorism.
  •  Reporting of near-miss incidents as accidents is needed, so that statistics and information can be compiled for accident prevention.
  •  Because the two main causes of death to firefighters are vehicle accidents and stress, the importance of physical fitness should be emphasized in the fire service, as well as the application of lessons on vehicle protection learned in the automobile racing industry.

    The main recommendation of the panel was to establish a high-level organization similar to the U.S. Fire Administration that would provide a structure for organizing various existing efforts in the firefighter PPE field. "Without a coordinated integration of research and technology," the report states, "the firefighter protection effort will continue its slow rate of progress.
  • What Now?
    Will the recommendations outlined in the report be acted upon? "Absolutely," Hopmeier maintains. "It's already having an impact on institutions like Natick and the Department of Justice."
  • The 30-page study was sponsored by the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center/National Protection Center and conducted in coordination with the Ames Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    The complete report may be obtained from FireRescue's Web site at Report.Dec.TNTnews.pdf.

    Ice Rescue
    Some basic tips for first responders


    With the advent of better insulating materials and extreme-type sports, more and more civilians are turning to winter water outings. And whether it's ice fishing, skating, ice sailing, snowmobiling or just curious kids, people will fall through the ice.

    Fact: There's no such thing as safe natural ice. Many conditions other than the start of frost and the end of frost dictate ice consistency, such as:

  • Water movement from currents, fish and fowl;
  • Chemicals from farms, fertilizers and other sources;
  • Vegetation, such as algae and water plants;
  • Wind currents;
  • Underground springs or culverts; and
  • Snow coverage.

    Approach an ice rescue similar to a normal water rescue with minor exceptions. The Boy Scouts' rule still applies today-reach, throw, row and go-with one caveat: Coach the victim to rescue themselves.

    Build Your Own
    You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to be proficient in ice rescue. For example, you can construct a cheap but effective ice rescue tool with just the following:

  • One 14' roof ladder;\
  • One truck-tire innertube (deflated normally to save space);
  • Rescue rope; and
  • 20 feet of webbing.

    Store these materials on your standard engine. To construct your tool on scene, inflate the innertube and lash it to the roof ladder with webbing four rungs down from the roof hooks. Then, tie rope to the ladder's hook end.

    During a rescue, extend the ladder to the victim. Let the victim pull the ladder to and subsequently under themselves. (Remember: The victim is hypothermic and probably can't hold onto a rescue rope. They can hold a ladder rung easier than a rope and may even be able to get their feet on the rungs.) When they've pulled the ladder under them, tell them to hold on and pull slowly and steadily. As they're pulled over the ice mantle, the ladder will break the ice until the mantle is strong enough to support the weight of the water-logged victim. The ladder then acts as a lever, lifting the victim free of the water and distributing the weight better. Should conditions change and the ice breaks, the innertube's flotation will keep the victim's head up as rescuers pull them to shore. If the victim can't get on the ladder, a trained rescuer can enter the water and assist.

    Train for ice emergencies when ice starts to form. Contact a recognized water rescue instructor, organization or team prior to doing any training. Eat up opportunities to train even in winter.

    Ice Rescue Factoids
    Physics: A 200-lb. man in winter clothes who falls through the ice will weigh roughly 220 lbs. trying to exit. He will attempt to lift himself out using the now-fissured mantle. His strength weakening from the cold, he almost makes it out when the ice rejects his increased weight and he goes crashing back through the ice face first.

    Resuscitation: Victims have been resuscitated past one hour of submersion. Treat all as trauma patients and transport them to a trauma or cardiac care hospital. Heart-bypass machines are a recognized method of re-warming hypothermic patients in arrest and post-arrest.

    George C. Drees has been with the Baltimore County Fire Department for 23 years, and in the department's technical rescue station for 18. He's a member of Pennsylvania Task Force 1, and an instructor with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. Contact him at

    Timeless Truths
    Bruno's words of wisdom & Experience

    Excerpts from Phoenix Fire Chief Alan Brunacini's latest book, "Timeless Tactical Truths," available from IFSTA (

  • Firefighting reality: Bad beginnings produce bad endings (always try to eliminate bad starts).
  • No matter how much you like to fight fire, someday you will get a fire you really wish you didn't have.
  • Bosses should not try to fool the workers: Trying to slip something past a firefighter is like trying to slip a sunrise past a rooster.
  • Sometimes, it's impossible to recover from doing the wrong thing first.
  • A confused fireground situation cannot be corrected by a confused IC.
  • Concealed spaces are places that keep secrets from firefighters…those secrets can quickly produce ugly surprises (sometimes fatal).
  • If you let the fire live, it may not return the favor.
  • Don't ever think a fire will react to your intentions-it will only react to the right amount of action (water/support) applied in the correct place at an opportune time.
  • Sometimes the IC must take a deep breath and focus to prevent just admiring the "magic of combustion" (letting the fire hypnotize you).
  • Poorly managed hazmat entry suits: body bags with a window.
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