The fire service is always working to improve firefighter safety. Standard operating procedures (SOPs), improved PPE, lighter equipment and reflective striping on apparatus are just a few examples. But we still have a ways to go. Each of us has a responsibility to improve scene safety.
There’s probably not one thing you can do that will improve scene safety more than turning on some lights. From the equipment we buy to the way we train with it, most departments have a vast potential for improvement when it comes to incident scene lighting.
Why You Need It
I remember the days (or should I say the nights) of stumbling around in the dark at accident scenes or after the fire was knocked down. Back then, the fire was the best light we had.
Since then, however, I’ve been fortunate to work for a fire department that’s very serious about incident scene lighting and understands how it improves fireground safety and efficiency.
Most of us can walk around our own homes in the dark, but try to do that someplace you’ve never been, and it’s not so easy. During nighttime operations, good lighting lets firefighters work around the scene with ease, rather than falling over hoselines or stumbling down stairs. It also lets fireground commanders better read smoke conditions and early warning signs of structural failure.
Good scene lighting even makes the general public safer. Fires attract attention, and roadside incidents always seem to come with their share of curious passers-by. The American public is becoming desensitized to emergency lighting because they see so much of it on non-emergency vehicles, like school buses, trash trucks and even the mail carrier. If your department can really light up a scene, the public will often see that more clearly and respect it more than just another set of flashing lights.
Many modern fire apparatus are equipped with fixed high-intensity lights and apparatus-mounted light towers that provide excellent scene lighting. So you ask, “How is this a training issue?” Just because it’s on the truck doesn’t mean everyone knows when and how to use it. We must reinforce its purpose and use to our personnel.
Light Towers & Brow Lights
Apparatus-mounted light towers are some of the greatest additions made to fire trucks. They allow you to direct a lot of light onto the incident scene and do so 360 degrees around the apparatus—something you can’t always do with fixed lighting on the truck. Because most towers extend into the air above the truck, they cover lots of area and help illuminate roof areas as well.
Light towers are outstanding for incidents along roadways because approaching vehicles can see from far away the light tower extended above the truck. They can also pan a full 360 degrees around the scene of an accident to look for other involved vehicles that are off the roadway and invisible in the darkness.
Brow lights are another form of generator-driven, truck-mounted lighting. Because they’re forward-facing, brow lights give great lighting in front of the apparatus—an area that in the past was only illuminated by headlights.
We all know that getting to the location of a reported incident and doing it safely is a big part of the battle. A working fire often reveals its location from miles away. But many of the incidents we go to today are EMS incidents and other calls where finding the correct address quickly makes a big difference in the incident’s outcome.
The good old handheld spotlight has been our weapon of choice for many years, but it has limitations. Today, we can use brow lights and other truck-mounted lighting as the apparatus rolls down the street into the incident scene. Instead of hunting for the posted address with the trusted spotlight, we now light the entire street and expose the dangers ahead.
If your apparatus is equipped with brow lights, teach your operators to switch them on before arriving at the incident scene. This allows you to locate hydrants or hoselines that may be in the roadway from initial-arriving companies. If you’re rolling into a motor vehicle accident scene, you can see debris from the wreck without running over it—or possibly even victims that have been ejected from the vehicle.
6 Points of Light
When lighting a scene, we want to cover as much of it as we can. It helps to break down the scene into the “six points of light”—the four exterior sides of the building, the roof and the interior where operations are being conducted.
If your apparatus are equipped with truck-mounted lights, teach apparatus operators to turn on those mounted lights as they arrive on scene. This allows the members dismounting the apparatus to see the lay of the building much better and identify hazards such as burglar bars or downed power lines.
Lighting on all exterior sides of the building makes for a much safer operation. Position portable or fixed lights from apparatus at the corners of the structure to provide great lighting all the way around the building.
As soon as operations permit, you should also get lights to the interior of the building. You can stretch line from cord reels mounted on the apparatus to power portable lights, use small portable generators with a light attached or even use battery-powered lights. Whatever method you use, it has to be quick and easy to deploy.
One note of caution: If you use portable generators, keep in mind that these units need fresh air to run and they produce carbon monoxide that could cause health issues when used on the interior of a structure fire.
Another location that should be well lit: exit openings from the fire building. Members can re-orient themselves to the light if they become disoriented; rapid intervention teams can use exit lighting as a point of reference when helping downed firefighters.
Flip the Switch
The next time you’re drilling at night, take some time to review scene lighting basics. The simple act of turning on some lights can have an immeasurable impact on personnel safety.
Drill 1: Shed Some Light on It
Step 1: Discuss with your crew the importance of scene lighting and your department’s SOPs on scene lighting.
Step 2: Discuss safety concerns of using cord reels and electric equipment in areas where water from handlines
Step3: In the apparatus room, review the tools and equipment needed to stretch lights into the structure. Focus on adapters that you may need, including junction boxes and plugs for different types of lights.
Drill 2: Try It at Night
Note: This is a great drill to fulfill the ISO night-drill requirement.
Step 1: During nighttime training, select a building your crew can drill on.
Step 2: Have crews identify the six points of light and use apparatus-mounted lighting to illuminate the six points.
Step 3: Practice lighting up exits.
Step 4: Discuss where apparatus equipped with light towers would best provide the most coverage during nighttime operations.