Adams, Aerials, Apparatus, Chassis Components, Pumpers, Rescues, Tankers

Apparatus Purchasing: Custom Cab Headlights

Issue 5 and Volume 24.

 

It is improbable to impossible for an apparatus purchasing committee (APC) to write a purchasing specification for a custom cab and chassis without interfacing with one of the manufacturers that builds them.

When doing so, APCs usually follow a preferred manufacturer’s specification verbiage verbatim for the quantity, type, and location of a cab’s headlights. Maybe they shouldn’t. They don’t have to.

Because of the correlation between headlight and directional light locations, this article continues the lighting discussion (“Apparatus Purchasing: Front Directional Lights”, Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, March 2019) on custom cabs. Although headlights appear to be an innocuous topic, valid questions and concerns have been raised about them. How do they work? What determines their location? Who determines their location? Why are they so bright? How should they be aligned? Some queries are addressed herein.

The Electric Vehicle Company of Hartford, Connecticut, introduced the first electric headlamp in 1898. In the early 1920s, Massachusetts was one of the first states to require headlamps on all motor vehicles. Major innovations since then include sealed-beam headlights in the late 1930s, halogen lamps in the 1960s, and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps in the early 1990s, followed shortly thereafter by light emitting diode (LED) technology. HID lamps never really caught on. Because purchasers have become enamored with them and many OEMs offer them as standard equipment, only LEDs are discussed herein. However, it must be pointed out that some vendors may offer halogen headlights as a default standard with an LED option. That may be a cost consideration rather than a performance criterion. Halogen headlights are still effective, legal, and desirable by some purchasers.

SAM MASSA

Sam Massa is the founder, president, and chief technologist of HiViz LED Lighting, the manufacturer behind the FireTech Brand. The HiViz Web site states that its product line includes LED scene lighting ranging from full-width low-profile brow lights to headlights and everything else in between. HiViz does not market warning lights for the public safety industry.

Massa, who is also a volunteer firefighter and an emergency medical technician, authored a very understandable white paper for the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) titled, “Fire Apparatus Headlights: A Lot to Know” (https://www.fama.org/forum_articles/fire-apparatus-headlights-lot-know/). He agreed to be interviewed for this article and to speak in nontechnical terms. Three of his white paper comments worth pondering are paraphrased below:

  • Some million-dollar fire apparatus today still use 1960s-era headlight designs.
  • What most firefighters would like changed on a rig’s lighting is the headlights.
  • Some apparatus committees specify $40,000 worth of scene lights and $200 worth of archaic glass and halogen headlights.

I consider this Massa comment to be significant, hence, it is verbatim: “A properly designed set of headlights for use on roadways must be designed to comply with an extremely precise set of photometric requirements spelled out in both SAE standards as well as FMVSS108. This set of photometric requirements ensures light from the headlights is sufficiently bright to illuminate the roadway, but more importantly ensures that light from the headlight of your vehicle does not present a hazard to other vehicles sharing the roadway. Just because the truck says ‘FIRE DEPARTMENT’ on it does not exempt it from the law.”

Figures 1 and 2

Figures 1 and 2: Headlight manufacturers have different and possibly patented methods of construction and designs; however, optics themselves are not proprietary. In actuality, the functional designs of round and rectangular assemblies are similar. #1 shows where manufacturers can put advertising and lettering. The low-beam LED chip sits behind it facing downward toward #2, the low-beam reflector. #3 and its twin on the opposite side are called low-beam fill lights. They project a flat, wide beam of light to fill in between the bumper and the bottom of the low beam. #4 is one of two high-beam reflectors. The optical cup reflects light for projection a long distance down the roadway. Unlike the wide spread of the low beam, the high beam is a symmetrical cone-shaped beam of light. #5 is the actual LED chip that produces light for the high beam. #6 is a unique feature HiViz calls a “Parking Lamp Halo Ring.” It is illuminated any time the marker lights are on. Massa says some customers wig-wag them side to side in lieu of their high beams. (Figures courtesy of HiViz.)

SAE AND DOT

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is not a regulatory body. According to Massa, “It has no authority to approve headlights or anything else. And, there is no such thing as DOT-approved headlamps, because the Department of Transportation (DOT) does not approve vehicle equipment. The industry has a self-certification system where the maker of a regulated type of vehicle equipment such as a headlamp certifies (basically promises) that the equipment meets the legal requirements. In the case of a headlamp, the lens marking ‘DOT’ counts as the certification. A headlight marked ‘DOT SAE VOR HL P 16’ identifies the test standard, the cutoff angle and how to aim it, the source type, and the year it was certified.” Low-beam lamps are “visually optically aimed” right and are marked VOR or left VOL. High-beam lamps are nondirectional “visually optically aimed” and are marked VO. P designates parking. While the specific markings vary by brand and configuration, a headlight lacking this data does not conform with the requirements in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 108 and is not legal for use on roadways in North America.

Photo 1 shows a typical Pierce quad-light cluster with LED headlights. DOT-mandated lettering is in the lower corners of each lamp.

1 A typical Pierce quad-light cluster with LED headlights. DOT-mandated lettering is in the lower corners of each lamp. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Pierce.)

 Photo 2 shows a round headlight installation also on a Pierce custom chassis. (Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Pierce.)

2 A round headlight installation also on a Pierce custom chassis.

SHAPES, CHIPS, AND OPTICS

There are various size round and rectangular shaped headlight fixtures (photos 1 and 2). Small-diameter round fixtures are common on buses and stylistic fire chassis similar to Rosenbauer’s Avenger series (photo 3).

The materials used and detailed and possibly proprietary methods of construction are left for the individual headlight and chassis manufacturers to elaborate on, praise, promote, or denigrate—as they see fit. Different than a halogen lamp’s filament, which can burn out, an LED chip is a very small piece of silicone that emits visible light (it glows) when voltage is applied to it or across it. Again, confer with the light manufacturers for techno terms such as photons, electrons, light emitting diodes, and semiconducting material. Most firefighters only care if a headlight is bright enough or too bright.

When asked if the physical size of an LED chip makes a headlight brighter, Massa replies, “Chip size is irrelevant. Effectively, LEDs with a high wattage rating combined with the amount of power sent across the chip determines brightness. All the light (brightness) in the world is useless, if not dangerous, if not properly directed by the optics. Its ALL about where the light falls—not how bright it is.” The optics either concentrate or diffuse the light generated by the chip.

His FAMA white paper notes headlights must meet an “extremely precise set of photometric requirements spelled out in both SAE standards as well as FMVSS108.” Multiple locations called test points or zones are where light measurements are taken. Some simple explanations of the testing follow.

  • Some test points have requirements for both maximum and minimum levels of light.
  • The locations and values of the test points and zones are specific to the function.
  • The level of light from a headlight is measured at certain degrees up, down, to the left, and to the right of dead center.
  • A high beam puts its highest intensity straight ahead.
  • A low beam puts its highest intensity slightly downward and rightward from dead center.
  • There are “seeing light” test points to the right and upward of dead center to allow roadside and overhead signs to be adequately illuminated.
  • There are “seeing-light” test points clustered in the region just to the right of center and just below horizontal for maximum down-the-road seeing on your own side of the road.
  • There are “glare light” test points to ensure oncoming drivers are not blinded.

In layman’s terms, headlights should simultaneously put light where it’s needed and keep it away from where it’s harmful. Too much light in certain areas is just as dangerous as not enough. And, the optics are what do it. Purchasers should bear in mind that headlights are tested in a lab. The testing and self-certification are similar to what the warning light manufacturers do when testing their products to be in compliance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. The light manufacturers test the products themselves and certify they are compliant—when properly installed by the apparatus manufacturer. The same applies to headlights. NFPA 1901 allows purchasers to require testing of warning lights be completed after installation, but that seldom, if ever, happens. I know of no procedures, mandates, or regulations for testing headlights after installation or of any test requirements by the DOT after delivery. Both the warning light and headlight manufacturers are at the mercy of the apparatus manufacturers to install their products “per code.”

End users shouldn’t tie themselves in knots trying to understand the technical data advertised or supplied by light manufacturers. I find it confusing. I believe the headlight manufacturers must complete a “photometric data plot map” showing compliance with DOT testing requirements, but I doubt comparing them would be of use in the field when purchasers evaluate headlamps.

One manufacturer promotes a low beam producing 1,900 lumens with an 18,000-candela output. In reality, it only has 575 effective lumens. Massa says, “Drivers don’t see lumens, but they do see how light is distributed.” Lumens is the overall light output by the LED regardless of its intensity. Lux is the amount of lumens on a particular surface at a given distance from the light. Candela is the intensity of the light. Nick Irwin, vice president of manufacturing for HiViz and the technical innovator behind many of its products, offers a simple explanation. “Lumens is like the volume of water coming out of a fire hose. Candela is like the nozzle pressure—you’re not changing the flow; you’re increasing the intensity (fog pattern or solid stream). And, lux is how much water is hitting the target you’re aiming at.”

Purchasers should have no reason not to believe that a headlight meets DOT requirements. However, I question whether headlights should—at the least—be aligned (aimed) after delivery of a new rig and it is loaded and “settles.” Does the fire department have an obligation or a responsibility to align apparatus headlights after a rig has been in service? How often should it be done? Do state-mandated vehicle safety inspections for commercial vehicles require it?

Rosenbauer’s stylistic Avenger chassis uses 4.27-inch round headlights, which have been proven successful on its Panther aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatus and in the bus industry for many years. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

3 Rosenbauer’s stylistic Avenger chassis uses 4.27-inch round headlights, which have been proven successful on its Panther aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatus and in the bus industry for many years. (Photo courtesy of Rosenbauer.)

The top arrow facing downward on this round LED headlight is pointed at an outer ring of small LED lights. If the DOT lens marking includes the letter “P” by itself, it would be a parking lamp. The lower left-facing arrow is pointing upward toward a high-beam light. The upward pointing arrow to the right is directed at one of the low-beam lights. The arrow on the right side pointing left appears to be aimed at one of the low-beam fill lights. (Photo courtesy of Pierce.)

4 The top arrow facing downward on this round LED headlight is pointed at an outer ring of small LED lights. If the DOT lens marking includes the letter “P” by itself, it would be a parking lamp. The lower left arrow is pointing upward toward a high-beam light. The upward pointing arrow to the right is directed at one of the low-beam lights. The arrow on the right side pointing left appears to be aimed at one of the low-beam fill lights. (Photo courtesy of Pierce.)

Sutphen appears to mount its headlights higher off the apron than most manufacturers, allowing more room for mounting equipment without blocking the lights. Grille mounting the mechanical siren frees up additional space on the bumper apron. (Photo by author.)

5 Sutphen appears to mount its headlights higher off the apron than most manufacturers, allowing more room for mounting equipment without blocking the lights. Grille mounting the mechanical siren frees up additional space on the bumper apron. (Photo by author.)

This is a closeup of photo 1. The upward facing arrow on the left high-beam light points to the lens that focuses the high-beam light. Its downward facing arrow points to what appears to be a lens (one each side) used to “fill” light in the foreground. On the right side is the low-beam light. The downward facing arrow points to the main low-beam reflector. The upward facing arrows point to what appears to be additional low beam optics. In the lower corners of each fixture is where this lighting manufacturer provides DOT required lettering. (Photo courtesy of Pierce.)

6 This is a closeup of photo 1. The upward facing arrow on the left high-beam light points to the lens that focuses the high-beam light. Its downward facing arrow points to what appears to be a lens (one each side) used to “fill” light in the foreground. On the right side is the low-beam light. The downward facing arrow points to the main low-beam reflector. The upward facing arrows point to what appear to be additional low-beam optics. In the lower corners of each fixture is where this lighting manufacturer provides DOT required lettering. (Photo courtesy of Pierce.)

HEADLIGHT GLARE

Glare, also defined as brightness, brilliance, and shine, is an ambiguous term. To nighttime drivers, glare is an undesired result of light being shined into the eyes to the point that vision may be impaired. Regardless of DOT-required “compliance” with glare testing, I believe personal observation and opinion determine the level of glare acceptable in the field. In the early 1920s, the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) developed a standard that required a headlight beam to produce specific amounts of light aimed in specific directions. That standard was followed and adopted by some individual states. The federal government took over all motor vehicle standards in 1968 with the adoption of FMVSS108. It legally superseded all state regulations.

It appears that the 1921 IES criteria was the first attempt at reducing or regulating headlight glare. A 2012 Boston Globe article attributed headlight glare to the newer (at the time) halogen light technology. NFPA 1901 states that warning lights should be placed to maintain the “maximum possible separation from the headlights.” The NFPA has not addressed directional light proximity to headlights, perhaps believing directional lights and headlights are the domain of FMVSS108 and the chassis manufacturers.

With a general concern that today’s LED warning lights on fire apparatus may be “too bright” when in the blocking-the-right-of-way mode, perhaps headlight glare is something that should be considered by a purchasing committee. Are today’s LED headlights “too bright”? Massa says, “If a headlight actually meets the photometric requirements of FMVSS108, it should not produce glare in the eyes of oncoming traffic.” Perhaps headlight glare is a subjective determination and not one substantiated by hard facts. Because almost all custom cab and chassis manufacturers are willing to locate headlights in multiple locations indicates that some fire departments or apparatus manufacturers have already individually or regionally addressed the issue. Their reasoning should be shared.

Figure 3 

Figure 3: The logo and the DOT required letter.

This view shows how a prepiped bumper monitor can obscure headlights. (Photo by author.)

7 This view shows how a prepiped bumper monitor can obscure headlights. (Photo by author.)

 If the swiveling suction elbow faces toward the center hosewell, the lower lights will be obscured. This department reversed the location of the headlights and warning lights. (Photo by author.)

8 If the swiveling suction elbow faces toward the center hosewell, the lower lights will be obscured. This department reversed the location of the headlights and warning lights. (Photo by author.)

9 A mechanical siren is 10½ inches tall. Informal measurements taken from the deck to the centerline of the headlights on a dozen custom cabs ranged from 12 to 22 inches. (Photo by author.)

HEADLIGHT BLOCKAGE

Front bumpers on custom apparatus have valuable real estate most fire departments want to use. When doing so, they may be inadvertently obscuring or outright blocking headlights as well as warning and directional lights. The flat surface between the cab fascia and bumper is a deck usually of aluminum treadplate that’s also called an apron and sometimes a gravel shield. It’s about 30 inches from ground level depending on the tires, suspension, and chassis design features such as a low-profile cab or an all-wheel-drive chassis. Purchasers must be cognizant of the angles tilt cabs require in the raised position. Some accessories have been mounted on bumper compartment covers that must be tilted to raise the cab. Ditto for equipment stored upright such as fire extinguishers.

A mechanical siren is 10½ inches tall, the eagles on some decorative bells are 18 inches high, and some swiveling suction elbows can be up to 18 inches from the deck. At recent trade shows, informal measurements taken from the deck to the centerline of the headlights on a dozen custom cabs ranged from 12 to 22 inches.

Obscuring headlights is a concern. There may also be an upward glare at night or in inclement weather from headlight beams reflecting off a chromed suction elbow, bell, or siren. Glare isn’t easily perceptible when you are sitting in the cab at a trade show.

OBSERVATIONS

Despite headlights having to comply with the photometric requirements spelled out in both SAE standards as well as FMVSS108, most apparatus manufacturers and headlight manufacturers do not reference them. In-the-field vendors normally say they meet FMVSS108 and DOT and are done with it. “Why confuse the general populace?” must be the mantra. Besides, more than likely, many purchasers couldn’t decipher the technical statistics, charts, and graphs. They can, however, tell the difference if a headlight drowns out a warning or directional light. They can also tell how well the apparatus driver can see down the road when the headlight is in one location or another. Has anyone done any testing to justify specifying a headlight location? Although subjective, it could be the reasons OEMs have so many varied headlight locations. Ask.

Some apparatus manufacturers offer both LED and halogen headlights from multiple manufacturers. Massa states, “It is not true that headlamps using new LED or HID technology are necessarily better than headlamps using older halogen technology. It’s often true because the newer technology eliminates certain kinds of performance constraints that existed with the older technology. There are some excellent halogen headlamps, and there are some lousy LED and HID headlamps. However, while any headlamp certified to meet DOT criteria may be legally equivalent to any other headlamp certified to meet DOT criteria, that does not mean it is all functionally equivalent. That is very important and a good reason to purchase from a reputable manufacturer.” He ends with, “There are a variety of options to choose from when specifying headlights on a fire apparatus. Some are very low cost, some more expensive, but nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the headlight selection you make for your apparatus can have a tremendous impact on your ability to answer the call safely at night. Many headlight manufacturers are willing to offer demo sets or have sales teams who can sit down with your committee to explain the differences in headlight options and types.”

OEM QUESTIONNAIRE

It appears all the manufacturers of custom fire apparatus cabs and chassis offer multiple locations for headlights, directional lights, and warning lights. They were asked to address headlight locations, light assembly configurations (round vs. square), and the type of lamps they use. Dave Scharphorn from Rosenbauer Motors and Jason Anibas from Pierce Manufacturing were kind enough to respond.

Is your standard configuration the quad-light system consisting of four lights with one low-beam and one high-beam lamp on each side?

Scharphorn: “The most common configuration that Rosenbauer does is the quad headlight.”

Anibas: “All custom chassis produced by Pierce Manufacturing have a default four-headlight system with one low-beam and high-beam lamp on each side. The outboard lights are the low-beam lamps, and the inboard lights are the high-beam lamps. Some of the systems offered have been certified by the light manufacturer to have all four lights illuminated with the high beam headlight switch.”

Do you offer a single headlight with a combination high-low beam lamp on each side?

Anibas: “The 4.75-inch round halogen headlights with replaceable bulb are a certified two headlight system. To maintain the four-headlight look, Pierce uses the two inboard lights as mandatory daytime running lights. Pierce Manufacturing has built a few 4×4 trucks with two-headlight systems. This was done because the height of the 4×4 chassis required the headlights to be mounted in the front face of the bumper. There was not enough available space in the bumper for a four-headlight system.”

Scharphorn: “Yes, with the round headlight configuration.”

Are there advantages or disadvantages for the two above configurations?

Anibas: “It is the traditional nature of the fire industry and heavy-duty truck market that preserves the four-headlight look. The width of a fire truck provides ample room for four headlights. High-beam flash is a common warning light option in the fire industry. The four-headlight system allows the low-beam headlights to be on while the high-beam headlights alternately flash. An argument could be made that if one of the lights of a four-headlight system gets disabled, you still would have an operational headlight on that side of the truck.”

What is your standard type of headlight lamp (i.e., halogen, LED)?

Scharphorn: “Rosenbauer’s standard headlights are the halogen headlights on the Commander and Warrior models, and LED headlights are standard on the Avenger chassis.”

Anibas: “The default headlight technology on custom Pierce chassis is LED for both the rectangular and round applications.”

Do you have optional types of headlight lamps?

Anibas: “Pierce also offers halogen headlamps for both the rectangular and round applications.”

Scharphorn: “We offer several brands of LED headlights in the quad headlight configuration and one option for the round headlights.”

Are there advantages or disadvantages to the types of lamps offered?

Scharphorn: “The halogen lights have a lower initial cost and are readily available through aftermarket parts, while the overall life expectancy is lower with them than the other type of lights. The LED lights have a higher initial cost; however, the life expectancy is longer than the halogen lights. One thing to consider is that in areas that have more adverse winter conditions, some LED lights do not generate enough heat on the lens to keep the light clear of snow and ice. A department should also be aware of where replacement lights can be purchased, whether it is through the local dealer, local parts supplier, or OEM.”

Anibas: “LED advantages: long life, better visibility, lower amp draw. LED disadvantages: cost, do not melt snow and ice as well as halogen lights. Halogen advantages: low cost, readily available, generate heat to melt snow and ice. Halogen disadvantages: shorter life, lower visibility, and higher amp draw.”

Do you have a preference for the size of headlight offered?

Anibas: “Pierce Manufacturing offers the rectangular four- by six-inch and the round 4.75-inch headlamps. These sizes were chosen because replacement lights are readily available and would keep the cost of ownership down.”

Can you elaborate on any benefits of using the three different size lights?

Anibas: “I am not aware of any inherent benefits of one size over another. It really comes down to customer preference of styling and cost of ownership.”

What are the distances from ground level you will mount a headlight?

Both Pierce and Rosenbauer state they comply with FMVSS108’s requirements that headlights must be between 22 inches and 54 inches from ground level.

Is there a minimum distance to a directional light that you will mount a headlight?

Anibas: “FMVSS does not mandate a minimum distance between a headlight and a directional light. The Pierce minimum distance is three inches.

Scharphorn: “The minimum distance is approximately three inches.”

Is there a minimum distance to a warning light that you will mount a headlight?

Scharphorn: “The minimum distance is approximately three inches.”

Anibas: “FMVSS and NFPA 1901 do not mandate a minimum distance between warning lights and headlights. The Pierce minimum distance is four inches.”

Do you provide instructions to end users on when and how to check headlight alignment on your custom chassis?

Anibas: “Headlight alignment instructions are not provided. The headlight buckets get aimed at the factory. Replacing the light assembly within the bucket typically would not require realignment.”

Do you provide instructions to end users for when and how to check headlight alignment on a commercial chassis that you may use?

Scharphorn: “The adjustment should be looked at once a year, anytime a headlight is replaced, or as needed if it is noticed that it is either not being directed in the areas needed or is aimed incorrectly, potentially causing a risk to the other drivers.”

Anibas: “Headlight alignment instructions are provided if the chassis manufacturer includes instructions in their chassis manuals.”

Do you have any words of wisdom for purchasers when specifying headlights?

Anibas: “Each customer has unique preferences when it comes to styling, longevity, functionality, and cost of headlights. The goal at Pierce is to provide headlight options that will serve the needs of all our customers.”

 

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.