Flashlight retrofit program stems potential of explosions

Flashlight retrofit program stems potential of explosions

DEPARTMENTS

Dispatches

Following last December’s incident of a flashlight exploding in the pocket of a firefighter’s turnout coat, Princeton Tectonics is retrofitting all its Survivor and Job Light flashlights to eliminate the potential of a recurrence.

According to a Pinellas Park, FL, Fire Department official, whose department experienced the incident, the probable cause of the explosion was static electricity igniting built-up hydrogen gases in the tightly sealed light. All batteries leak hydrogen gas, the official explained, and this was the first problem that the department had in the 12 months that they had been using these flashlights. A local vendor had donated about 70 of these flashlights to the department.

A Princeton Tectonics engineer confirmed the cause of the explosion, noting that the source of static electricity was the rubberized turnout coat. Princeton Tectonics ran tests on the flashlights and conferred with other flashlight manufacturers; it was determined that the more than 125 different makes of plastic flashlights on the market all have the potential to explode, Since any batteries inside a sealed plastic container run the risk of causing hydrogen gases to build up, Princeton Tectonics involved battery manufacturers in researching how to alleviate this problem.

The engineer explained that one solution is to place platinum catalysts inside flashlights to neutralize excessive hydrogen gas and convert it to water.

The fire department official stated that there were about four instances of other fire departments in the Midwest and California having problems with their flashlights. A department in Illinois was reported to have drilled holes in their lights to help vent the batteries’ hydrogen gases.

Hydrogen gases can remain in flashlights for several days, explained a company official, and if an ignition source is introduced, an explosion can occur. Although the chances of flashlights exploding are very slim, because of the fire service environment, all flashlights under these conditions have more of an opportunity to succumb to the chemical reaction. By inserting platinum catalysts inside flashlights, the hydrogen gas will be dissipated.

The official noted that metal flashlights do not run the same risk of explosion as do the plastic lights. Even though hydrogen gas can still build up in metal containers,static electricity does not adhere to metal surfaces.

However, all sealed flashlights should be fitted with catalysts, the engineer warned.

Princeton Tectonics urges ail fire departments using Survivor and Job Lights to return them to the company for retrofitting at no charge. Contact: David Pines or Bill Stevens, Princeton Tectonics, P.O. Box 8057, Trenton, NJ 08650. Telephone: (203) 298-9331.

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