Nothing tests a firefighter like fire rescue in a smoke-filled building—haz-mat disposal, medical calls, auto extraction, and other emergencies not withstanding, The many obstacles may include an unknown floor plan; limited visibility, noise, and breathing; and a rapidly closing window of opportunity to find trapped or unconscious residents or firefighters in a smoke-filled room. Add unexpected equipment failure to the scenario, and the result could be a cascading series of events ending in disaster.

In these conditions, one critical tool is the flashlight, which also can be quite vulnerable. If the bulb breaks when the flashlight is accidentally dropped off a landing or down a flight of stairs, if its light is too dim because of weak batteries, or if the light simply fails to penetrate the smoke, firefighter safety may be jeopardized.

Recoil Light-Emitting-Diode (LED) Technology™, a new light emission method developed by Pelican Products, Inc., is light technology that offers a light source that burns 50 percent longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, maintains brightness for up to 10,000 hours of bulb life, and operates under rugged or underwater conditions.

1. Photos courtesy of Pelican Products, Inc.

Derived from the mechanics of lighthouses and locomotive headlights, which demand focused light beams capable of cutting through fog and haze for long distances, Recoil LED Technology enables better flashlight focus, brightness, longevity, durability, and reliability for safer, more effective fire and rescue service operations (photo 1).

According to the manufacturer, Recoil LED Technology will enable firefighters to see farther and more clearly in smoke-filled or dimly lit environments; haz mat specialists will be able to more clearly assess and dispose of materials in smoky, vaporous, or dusty environments; and fire inspectors will be able to more easily survey structures for fire code violations in darkened bars, warehouses, homes, hospitals, and office buildings.


The incandescent light bulb has remained basically unchanged for 124 years. In modern incandescent lighting, electricity still heats a tungsten filament inside a glass bulb until the tungsten gets white-hot and emits visible light, just as it did in Thomas Edison’s time. But incandescent bulbs today remain tremendously energy inefficient; just four to six percent of the electrical power supplied to the bulb is converted to visible light.

The halogen light used in most flashlights also uses a tungsten filament, but it is enclosed in a much smaller quartz bulb. Halogen bulbs emit more light than standard incandescent bulbs but are also extremely energy inefficient, often burning out after only 50 hours of use.

Moreover, in flashlights, both halogen and incandescent bulbs cast a washed-out, oval-shaped pattern of light known as the “fisheye effect.” This results from scattered peripheral light reflecting imperfectly forward off the flashlight reflector (photo 2).

As an alternative, newer and cooler light sources such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are not only more energy-efficient but also more durable and compact. Because of its energy efficiency and longevity, LED technology has already been applied to create a generation of LED flashlights. However, existing LED flashlights cast only a wide, diffused beam capable of illuminating objects only a few feet away.

For spot illumination, existing LED technology is primarily “de-signed to be seen, not to see with.” The round tip of tiny LED bulbs provides a fine viewing angle for applications such as display panels, but they scatter light too widely to be effective for flashlight or spotlighting purposes.

“One technique attempted was to direct LED light through a double-convex lens to focus it,” according to Kevin Deighton, director of product development at Pelican Products. “But the lens by itself was an unsatisfactory compromise. White LED light lacked the necessary brightness, and colors changed. Multiple LED lights, in turn, provide better fill lighting but still don’t focus well enough to illuminate objects at farther distances.”


Conventional incandescent and LED flashlights shine light imperfectly forward with scattered peripheral light. The Recoil LED Technology for flashlights takes the opposite, counterintuitive approach. As in a lighthouse, the new technology focuses light by firing it backward. A special para-bola-shaped reflector then captures 100 percent of the light and reflects it forward.

The resulting parallel-focused beam of light is free from scattered peripheral light, which greatly increases its ability to cut through environments obscured by smoke, steam, vapor, and dust. Since no filament is involved, the bright white, color spectrum-tested light is also free of the annoying black spots, shadows, and distortion found in traditional filament-based lighting, which can never completely mask filament shadows or a distorted oval pattern of lighting.

DEL WILLIAMS is a technical writer based in Torrance, California.


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