February 5, 2019
When firefighters respond to an emergency situation, the iconic rotating red and white lights catch the attention of drivers and pedestrians alike. But how have these lighting systems evolved and what should you consider as you look to upgrade your fire apparatus lighting system?
Pierce Manufacturing prides itself on creating custom fire apparatus, including the latest advancements and technology to keep firefighters and their respective communities safe. Learn more below about industry standards and trends in apparatus lighting systems so you can make the right lighting choice for your department.
A brief overview of NFPA lighting requirements
On fire apparatus, warning light systems are positioned throughout the required zones identified by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard, and in areas that support the needs of individual fire departments. The NFPA segments an apparatus based on four zones with upper and lower warning light requirements for each zone that address the needs of calling for right-of-way (when the apparatus is responding/moving) and blocking mode (when the apparatus is on-scene/parked).
When you are working with an apparatus manufacturer, one of the most important questions to ask is what are the NFPA lighting requirements for each zone of the apparatus. Additionally, custom warning light options should be considered that address the individual needs of a fire department and its community. The major warning light manufacturers have created tools that provide an easy way to validate if a combination of lights will meet all NFPA requirements. Whelen® Engineering’s NFPA Compliance Checker is an example.
What are the new features of fire apparatus warning lights?
Today, lights used on apparatus as a warning signal during right-of-way, and when parked, have reached a new level of reliability, efficiency, and output thanks to ever advancing LED technology. For fire crews, recent trends and advancements mean a new dependence on warning light packages that can deliver the longevity needed to meet equipment, service, and budgetary goals. Apparatus owners now have the opportunity to select lights based on department preference, outfitting apparatus with customized lighting options. In fact, the options available when configuring warning light packages seem endless including: color, size, shape, depth, and mounting styles.
New lighting trends first caught the attention of apparatus manufacturers and firehouses about 20 years ago after police vehicle light bars became equipped with the seemingly trouble-free, attractive, and more noticeable light-emitting diode technology known as LEDs. Over the years, LED products have continued to evolve. They now produce illumination approximately 90 percent more efficiently, and in the end cost less than traditional bulbs.
What are the benefits of using LED light packages for fire apparatus?
- LED lifespan is between 50,000 and 100,000 hours, costing less money in maintenance and replacement costs.
- LEDs have less electrical draw than previous lighting solutions.
- LEDs can be controlled, focused and positioned for greater penetration.
- The technology provides advanced heat control and stronger light output.
- LEDs are known to be far more rugged and durable than traditional light bulbs and can withstand cold temperatures.
- There is no warm-up period on an LED. They light instantly within nanoseconds.
- Mercury and other hazardous substances are not found in LEDs making them an environmentally friendly option for departments focused on green community strategies.
- LEDs require less space on the apparatus and on firehouse shelves.
Should my department update our warning light system?
Updating warning light systems has also become a vital strategy for fire departments that need to address road safety concerns or for those facing changes within the community they serve that may require an upgraded system. While there is an investment associated with upgrading apparatus warning lights such as beacons, light heads and lightbars to an LED light source package, the overall value realized by a department is often much greater. Updating and adding warning lights ensure that a fire truck will be seen, helping to prevent secondary accidents from occurring.
What resources are available to help me choose a warning light package?
There are many resources available for departments that are either in the new fire apparatus design process or looking to upgrade an existing warning light system. Most apparatus owners or fleet managers let price and brand loyalty steer their choices. However, working with an experienced apparatus manufacturer, dealer, and lighting provider will provide invaluable guidance to help make sure the warning lights selected best serve the department’s needs. Most apparatus lighting manufacturers, including Whelen, will provide photos, customer reviews, compliance information, and performance and design tools that make decision-making a bit easier.
What’s next for apparatus warning lighting?
As apparatus technologies and design elements continue to expand the boundaries of safety and efficiency for departments across the country, there will likely be advances in warning light synchronization, combinations of warning light and scene light in a single housing, and lighting that takes up less space on the apparatus. All major emergency vehicle lighting manufacturers are developing smaller warning lights that can fit right in the rub rail on the body side of a vehicle. This creates a compact lighting solution that still meets NFPA standards, and an attractive option that is likely to be widely accepted. It is expected that LEDs will continue to become brighter, more efficient, more able to handle high temperatures.
We may be approaching the practical upper limit of brightness of LED warning lights. Community and fire fighter concerns around the blinding affect super LEDs on today’s apparatus has started the discussion that may cause NFPA to put an upper limit on warning light brightness or mandate a dimmer mode for nighttime use of warning lights.
What warning light features do you want to see on your department’s apparatus? Contact an experienced Pierce Manufacturing representative to discuss all of your apparatus lighting options that best support you, your crew, and your equipment.