Latest Innovation From FRC Is Reliable, Efficient LED Lighting

Jack McLoughlin
Fire Research Corporation founder and President Jack McLoughlin.
Toh Meng
Toh Meng, FRC's vice president of electrical engineering.
One of the company's new EVOLUTION lights, an 8-LED that delivers more than 15,000 lumens, is put through testing.
FRC's Firefly
FRC's Firefly is a self-contained unit with four LEDs that put out 650 lumens of white light.

Shadows and unlit areas can turn nighttime fire scenes into death traps for firefighters and victims. Yet it is no mean feat to light up a fire scene: Doing so requires a lot of high-wattage lamps and the generators to power them. Flashlights and vehicle-powered lights just aren't enough.

The whitest and most efficient fire scene lighting is provided by LED (light-emitting diode) lamps. They consume less power and are tougher than quartz halogen and HID metal halide bulbs. And they last longer – up to 50,000 hours. LED lamps are more expensive than quartz halogen and HID, but they don't need to be replaced as frequently, offsetting the cost differential.

It is for those reasons that Fire Research Corporation (FRC) added a range of LED lamps to its fire scene and vehicle product lines. "Our new EVOLUTION is an 8-LED that delivers more than 15,000 lumens of light output," said FRC President/Founder Jack McLoughlin. "Unlike quartz and HID lamps, the EVOLUTION gives you full illumination when you turn it on; there's no warm-up time. You can use it with all existing FRC telescopic poles, tripods, non-telescopic and brow mounts. It can be added to your field kits and vehicles seamlessly."

As a relatively new technology, LED lights are unfamiliar to many fire departments. But increasing fire service awareness of LEDs' advantages are pushing up sales.

"Historically, we sold our light towers with quartz halogen or HID lamps," said Marlin Nicol, the director of global commercial sales with the Will-Burt Company, which uses FRC lampheads in its systems. In 2010, he said Will-Burt started using LEDs, primarily in response to customer demand.

"Each month our sales utilizing LED lamps increase," he said. "Some of the reasons stated by our customers are longer life of the bulbs, instant-on to full illumination at all times, greater durability and better serviceability."

Chad Trinkner, Pierce Manufacturing's market manager for aerial, pumper and fire suppression products, considers FRC to be on the leading edge of LED technology.

"The engineering team underneath Toh Meng continues to amaze me with the output (lumens) that their lights generate," Trinkner said. "FRC will tackle any project that Pierce assigns and delivers a quality product."

LED lamps are the latest in a long line of innovations from Fire Research Corporation. The company was born more than 40 years ago from Jack McLoughlin's life as a design engineer by day and a volunteer firefighter at night. "As a volunteer firefighter, I soon realized that a lot of our equipment could be better designed," he said. "For instance, the water gauges in our trucks used floats. When it got cold outside, the floats froze and the gauges didn't work."

FRC's water gauge uses electrical conductivity to measure water levels. "The conductivity changes based on how much water is in the tank," McLoughlin said. "This means that you can accurately monitor your water levels in all temperatures, without worrying about floats that freeze."

Founded as a one-man operation in 1968, today FRC has over 100 employees at its 38,000-square-foot plant (four buildings) in Nesconset, N.Y. The company that started out making freeze-proof water gauges now builds a full range of fire apparatus flowmeters, governors, vehicle and scene lighting equipment, instruments/indicators/displays and assorted accessories.

A holder of more than 40 patents, FRC is jointly owned by Jack McLoughlin and two company officers, Toh Meng, vice president of electrical engineering, and Neocles Athanasiades, vice president of mechanical engineering.

Along with water gauges, fire scene lighting was one of FRC's earliest product lines. "Back in the 1960s, there were very few lights on fire trucks," McLoughlin recalled. "Mostly, they had flashlights and the swiveling vehicle-mounted floodlights that were found on police cars. These lights didn't provide much illumination, and they were only as close to the scene was the truck could get."

To address this problem, FRC developed portable 500-watt quartz lamps that were AC generator-powered. "We bought the lights from an outside supplier, and made the stands ourselves," McLoughlin said. "In the early days, we took a piece of steel and bent it to create four corners for a stand. That's how basic it was."

As FRC's lights caught on, the company innovated. Eventually it developed its FOCUS line of low-profile quartz halogen lamps (powered on either 12 or 24 volts DC; 120/240 volts AC) and telescoping stands. The FOCUS line's claim to fame is its ability to deliver 100 percent of its light directly onto the scene.

"It does this thanks to its patented curved reflector," said Toh Meng. "Each reflector has over 50 parabolic surfaces. This ensures that the light is evenly directed where you want it to go, and not wasted by bleeding skyward. The result is a better lit scene and, when mounted in the truck, a better lit vehicle."

Although quartz halogen light was a big improvement over incandescent lights, FRC wanted to do better. That is why the company developed HID metal halide lamps, followed by LEDs. In addition to the EVOLUTION, FRC now offers LED products in its vehicle and cabin product lines.

The SPECTRA 900 is a surface-mount light designed to be installed on any vehicle surface. There's no need to cut out any panels. Just drill a hole to feed the SPECTRA-900's wire to the vehicle's electrical systems, and attach the light to the surface using metal screws.

"The SPECTRA 900 contains 24 white LEDs, capable of a combined brightness of 4,600 lumens," said Meng. "We fit these lights with customized lenses that direct all of the light to the vehicle's side and onto the body. This ensures that fire and ambulance operators can see everything that is happening next to and near their vehicle."

The SPECTRA 900 has an all-aluminum light housing with chrome colored bezel. It is 9 inches wide, 6-3/4 inches high, and extends less than 1-3/4 inches from the panel.

For in-vehicle use, FRC developed the LED Firefly Light. Unlike standard interior light strips, each Firefly is a self-contained circular unit (2-5/8 inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick) that has four LEDs. Collectively they put out 650 lumens of white light. "Each Firefly only draws 0.8 amps at 12 VDC and half that at 24 VDC," said McLoughlin. "Unlike strip lights, you can put Fireflys wherever you need them. They deliver full light instantly, and are totally sealed so that you can use them on any surface inside the cabin."

At this point in time, LED lights are a small part of FRC's total lighting business, but McLoughlin is confident that will change soon.

"LEDs probably represent a few percentage points of what we sell," he said. "But I expect that they will be standard on all new vehicles in five years time, as the technology becomes more prevalent and prices come down due to increased sales volume. Meanwhile, a lot of departments are starting to retrofit their apparatus with LEDs. So it won't be long before other forms of fire scene lighting become obsolete."

LED Advantages

When it comes to fire scene lighting, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are becoming a favorite for generating the brightest and whitest light.

The reason has to do with "color temperature," a characteristic of visible light that is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). There are many mind-bending explanations for color temperature, such as "the temperature at which a blackbody emits radiant energy competent to evoke a color the same as that evoked by radiant energy from a given source." That tech-speak is from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. As painful as it sounds, it is one of the more intelligible color temperature definitions available.

Here is what you should know: The higher a light source's color temperature, the brighter and whiter is the light that it produces. Lower color temperatures indicate dimmer and redder light.

Because LED light has a color temperature of 6,000 to 7,500 degrees K, it produces the brightest, whitest light. It is similar to daylight on an overcast day. (The hottest color temperature can be found in a blue sky at 10,000 to 12,000 degrees K. The coolest is reddish candlelight at 1,800 to 1,900 degrees K.)

By contrast, quartz halogen lights have a color temperature of 3,300 to 3,500 degrees K, resulting in an orange-yellow color at best. That is an improvement over incandescent lights, which have a color temperature of 2,500 to 2,900 degrees K.

HID metal halide bulbs have a higher color temperature than quartz halogen – 4,200 to 4,500 degrees K – so their light is less yellow than quartz halogen. But it is not as white as LED light.

LED light has other advantages. Energy efficiency is one. LEDs convert 40 percent of the electricity that goes into them to light and the rest to heat. Only eight percent of the power that goes into a quartz halogen bulb is converted into light. All the rest is heat.

LEDs cost more (four to six times more than quartz halogen bulbs), but last up to 25 times longer. If a fire department has the upfront money to purchase LED lamps, it will benefit from lower operating and maintenance costs.

LEDs are tougher than quartz halogen and HID bulbs. This makes LEDs better able to survive the rigors of firefighting.

Finally, LED lights can be mounted anywhere quartz halogen lights can. FRC's EVOLUTION LED products are able to work with all of the company's poles, brow mounts and other EVOLUTION lamp fittings

Overall, LEDs are brighter, more efficient, tougher and longer-lasting than quartz halogen and HID bulbs, which offsets their higher initial cost.

FRC's Other Products

LED lights are one part of FRC's product line.

The company still sells quartz halogen and HID metal halide in the FOCUS and OPTIMUM lines and budget-priced NightMaster lampheads.

FRC also makes:

Flowmeters: These include the Insight, Insight Plus (flow rate and discharge pressure), Insight Ultimate (combined digital flow meter and traditional style pressure indicator) and Portable FlowTester (for calibrating fire suppression equipment and testing pump effectiveness and hydrant flows).

Governors: FRC makes the Total Control (a complete pressure governor, engine monitor and master pressure display all built into a single panel mount display), PumpBoss 200 (with full engine status displays, including check and stop engine indicators, RPM, oil pressure, temperature, and battery voltage), PumpBoss 400 (monitors both the intake and discharge pressures to prevent pump cavitations), InControl 300 (uses pushbuttons for pressure and RPM setting adjustment), InControl 400 (a hand throttle-style knob for settings adjustment), and ThrottleXcel (a next generation remote engine throttle with a display and monitoring system).

Instruments: The company offers a range of fire-related instruments. They include the AirSentinel (breathing air warning system), TankVision (determines the volume of liquid in any kind of tank), TachPRO (multi-function digital display that shows engine RPM, battery voltage, oil pressure and coolant temperature), TachPLUS (digital display panel with 13 combined instruments and hour meters), FROG-D (display for single phase generators rated from 6 to 45,000 watts, 120 or 240 volts), FROG-D 3P (compact display for three phase generators rated from 10 to 135,000 watts), AutoFoam System (an around-the-pump automatic foam proportioning system) and ManualFoam System (operator-controlled around-the-pump proportioner).

Seat Monitors: Monitors whether all persons in moving vehicle are belted in securely. Records all vehicle and seat belt data in compliance with the NFPA 1901 standard.

Accessories: A broad range of products, including the TankLifter Compressed Gas Cylinder Handler; the Safer Search Device System; the ManSaver Bar (a padded safety bar that helps safeguard the elevated walk-through area on top-mount pumpers), Platform Bar, Bench Seat Safety Bar and Aerial Bar; SkullSaver (the original KEEP BACK ladder cover); JackStrap (stops hose from coming off the apparatus while in motion); interior and exterior intercom systems; and the DryGear Professional suit dryer.

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