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LEDs Taking Over Firefighting Apparatus

By Alan M. Petrillo

There’s been a quiet revolution in lighting on all types of fire apparatus, and light emitting diodes-better known as LEDs-are leading the charge.

LEDs have many advantages over other types of lighting devices: They draw less current, burn cooler, and last inordinately longer.

Although LED lighting fixtures are more costly up front than other types of lighting, they still are being chosen more frequently to light up fire apparatus, from scene lighting to light towers to warning lights, and interior lighting for compartment illumination.

LED lighting for fire apparatus

Whelen Engineering makes a wide variety of LED lighting for fire
apparatus, including its Pioneer line, such as these standard and
surface mounted models. (Photo courtesy of Whelen


Widespread Acceptance

Andy Olson, vice president of fire, rescue, and EMS for Whelen Engineering Co., says his firm “has experienced a huge acceptance of LED lighting on fire apparatus. It is pretty much accepted across the board so that it has become the norm, a standard in the industry.”

Olson says that if there’s a type of lighting needed on a vehicle, Whelen makes it. “Emergency warning lights, brake and tail lights, backup lights, flood lights, and scene lights-we make them all,” he says. “Ninety percent or more of our products now are LEDs, which we make in a whole range of products, from standard units to top-of-the-line offerings. Halogen-based products have virtually disappeared.”

Rota-Beam introduced by Whelen Engineering

The Rota-Beam introduced by Whelen Engineering is a solid
state LED that mimics a rotating beacon. (Photo courtesy of
Whelen Engineering.)


Olson notes that last year Whelen introduced the Rota-Beam, a solid state LED that mimics a rotating beacon. The benefits, he points out, are the longevity and brightness of LED lighting and that there are no gears or motors in the light.

Toh Meng, president of FRC, a division of ROM Corp., says his company has seen his LED products used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers for about 80 percent of the vehicles they are building or selling. “Whether it is for scene, interior, compartment, or warning lighting, people love LED technology,” Meng says. “They like the color of the light. It’s whiter and closer to sunlight than other types of illumination; the quality of the light is better; the LEDs have a much longer life, lasting between 50,000 and 100,000 hours; and they are more reliable and trouble-free, making their cost of ownership less.”

Dave Cotsmire, Will-Burt’s marketing manager, points out that for the past few years, LEDs have been the majority of the lights Will-Burt has installed on its towers. “LEDs are the buzzword in the fire industry when it comes to lighting,” Cotsmire says. “They use less power, don’t need an onboard generator, and can plug straight into a 12-volt system. The demand is out there and is growing year by year.”

Los Angeles County (CA) firefighters load hose in a pickup truck lit by Code 3 LED Arch beacons

Los Angeles County (CA) firefighters load hose in a pickup truck
lit by Code 3 LED Arch beacons. (Photo courtesy of Code 3.)


Roger Weinmeister, president of Command Light, says that two or three years ago his company would occasionally put LEDs on one of its light towers. “But now about 50 percent of our lights have LEDs on them,” he says.


Code 3 makes warning light bars, perimeter lighting, and tail and stop light assemblies with LED lighting, along with beacons for tailboards. “We came out with the Arch Beacon for tailboards a year and a half ago,” Kelly Kyriakos, vice president of emergency business and marketing for Code 3, points out. “It can flash red to the rear and white to the front so it can be used as a hosebed light or it can be configured for double reds (front and back) or any combination of colors needed. Flash patterns also are programmable.”

Code 3 makes warning light bars, such as this model with red and white LED lighting, as well as LED beacons, perimeter lights, and tail and stop light assemblies. (Photo courtesy of Code 3.)

FRC makes a number of LED models with different outputs from 5,000 to 20,000 lumens in its Evolution and Spectra lines. Meng says FRC will soon introduce several new models, including a new series that is 30 percent more powerful than current models.

Clay Horst, owner of On Scene Solutions, got into the LED market for the fire service with its Night Stick model. “Night Stick became the only linear tube light in the fire service to be Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certified,” Horst says, “and we later rebranded it as the Night Axe.”

FRC, a division of ROM Corp., makes the Spectra LED scene
light, shown here mounted on tripods at the rear of a fire
apparatus. (Photo courtesy of FRC.)


Pete Lauffenburger, lighting product manager for Akron Brass Co., says Akron acquired GSE Manufacturing in 2006, which had a lineup of scene lights for the fire industry. For a period of time, Akron made high-intensity discharge halogen lighting but got into LED lighting with the introduction of its SceneStar in 2012. “We offer SceneStar in a couple of configurations,” Lauffenburger says. “The DC model is available in 14,000 and 19,000 lumens, while the AC version, for 120 or 240 volts, is 20,000 lumens. The response to these lights has been absolutely positive, with people amazed at the amount of light out of them and how close to daylight the color of the light is.”

An FRC-manufactured Evolution LED scene light is shown
mounted on the brow of a fire vehicle. The Evolution also can be
mounted on a pole, tripod, or side of a vehicle. (Photo courtesy of


Lauffenburger notes that Akron also makes LED warning lights through its Weldon division, including models with removable LEDs that can be replaced. “There is a threaded screw that goes into the circuit board, instead of being soldered to the board,” he adds.

Mark Sepko, product manager for Will-Burt Company, says Will-Burt makes the Night Scan LED light tower that folds down and can pivot up to extend up to 25 feet tall. “The Chief and the Powerlight are the two most used of our models by the fire industry,” Sepko says. “The Chief is used on smaller vehicles like a chief’s vehicle or a small rescue or pumper on a Ford F-550 chassis, while the Powerlight is used on larger vehicles.”

LED strip lighting

On Scene Solutions makes LED strip lighting, especially useful in
compartments, as shown on this Ferrara Fire Apparatus rig. (Photo
courtesy of On Scene Solutions.)


Bright and Energy-Efficient

Kyriakos says the LED craze started in the police market in the early 2000s but morphed into the fire industry because of the lighting demands placed on fire apparatus. “LED technology has progressed so much,” Kyriakos says. “The lighting is better and brighter, you can have a fast flash rate, the LEDs last so much longer, and they draw less amperage. Inside fire apparatus, cab interiors and compartments have gone to LED lighting because of its brightness, long life, and lower maintenance costs.”

Interior LED lighting

Interior LED lighting, as shown in this command center vehicle, is
a specialty of On Scene Solutions. (Photo courtesy of On Scene


Sepko notes that the optics of LEDs are constantly improving. “We’re learning how to make LEDs more efficient, which helps pull back on an already low amp draw,” he says. “They are solid state, so there’s not the failure rate because of vibration, heat, or cold that you get with other lighting. And, LEDs will give you a life of at least 50,000 hours, which is approximately five years of continuous use.”

Weinmeister cites a number of reasons for the growing popularity of LEDs. “They have an advantage in efficiency, can be focused, have great penetration, control heat well, and give more light output with a third of the power input,” he notes. “Their biggest disadvantage is their cost. An LED light head is five times greater than the cost of a quartz halogen light. However, LED life expectancy is in years. I can’t recall a single LED lamp head that we’ve had to replace in the four years we’ve been using them.”

The SceneStar LED light

The SceneStar LED light is the handiwork of Akron Brass,
which offers the light in DC and AC models ranging from
14,000 to 20,000 lumens in brightness. (Photo courtesy of
Akron Brass.)


Olson points out that LEDs are the fastest advancing market product in the fire service. “LEDs have the benefits of warranty, intensity of light, low current draw, and great life expectancy,” he says. “And every week we see advancements in diodes that are brighter and smaller, meaning we can package LED lighting in smaller and brighter products.”

Horst notes that in the evolution of LED strip lighting, the most LEDs per inch was the goal, but LED efficiency got so much better and brighter that night blindness has become an issue in some instances for firefighters. “We produced a new light that was half as intense and lower in price,” he adds. “Our Access line is twice as bright as the premium Night Axe but one third the cost.”

Will-Burt Night Scan LED light tower models

The most popular Will-Burt Night Scan
LED light tower models are the Chief and
the Powerlight (shown here), which can be
used on a variety of fire vehicles from small
to large. (Photo courtesy of Will-Burt Co.)


Meng estimates that LED lighting is about six times more effective than a halogen light. “With some vehicles, especially brush and rapid intervention vehicles, you don’t need a small generator on the truck,” he says. “With LED lighting, you can draw from the truck battery because the lighting draws fewer amps and still produces more light.”

Refurbishing Options

Meng notes that FRC and ROM have noticed a trend where fire departments are replacing halogen lighting on older fire vehicles with LED lighting. “If they have eight halogen scene lights on their truck, they might replace two or four with LEDs, and the replacements are usually the lights they use the most,” he says.

Code 3 also launched a light refurbishment program in 2012. “There are thousands of fire vehicles out there with old rotating light bars,” Kyriakos says. “We created a junction box that uses a vehicle’s existing cable so we can remove the halogen lights and refit them with LEDs.”

Command Light Shadow series light tower for its new rescue-pumper
The Surprise (AZ) Fire Department chose a Command Light Shadow series light tower for its new rescue-pumper. (Photo courtesy of Command Light.)

But, Horst thinks that even with their huge benefits, LEDs may have a limited future in fire service use. “We are working on a product that may render LEDs obsolete,” he says. “We think it will revolutionize the fire industry again in terms of lighting. This is a next-generation technology that uses a material that gives off light and doesn’t have a traditional bulb or LED as we know it. It’s a biofriendly material that affords the capability of wireless lighting.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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