What are flashlight ratings, what do they mean, and why should fire professionals be concerned about them?

Increasingly, flashlight manufacturers throughout the country have spent an enormous amount of research and development time to create products that meet some very tough standards that few people understand. Selecting the best, safest, and most appropriate portable lighting product for an application involves a variety of factors, including how the flashlight performs in a hazardous environment. The environment may be the result of fire conditions or may be hazardous by definition.


The United States National Electric Code (NEC) uses the following terms to define a hazardous location: Class, Division, Group, and Temperature Code.

Class indicates the possible presence of an explosive atmosphere. Class I indicates the presence of flammable gases, vapors, or liquids (e.g., around or near a propane tank). Class II denotes the possible presence of combustible dusts (e.g., around or near a grain silo). Class III indicates the possible presence of ignitable fibers and flyings (e.g., at a manufacturing facility containing airborne metal shavings).

Division defines a location that has an explosive atmosphere when equipment is operating. Division 1 is an environment that has an explosive atmosphere under normal operating conditions (e.g., inside an oil or gas tank or in certain confined spaces). Division 2 designates an environment in which an explosive atmosphere is not likely to exist under normal conditions-for example, a manufacturing facility where flammable substances such as gasoline flows through pipes. The explosive material is present only if something goes wrong (e.g,, a pipeline leak).

Group designates the ignition-related properties of the explosive atmosphere pres-ent. Group ranges from A to G, encompassing atmospheres containing acetylene to those containing flour, starch, or grain dusts.

Temperature Code indicates the autoignition temperature of a specific flammable material in the environment. This code indicates the maximum surface temperature of equipment allowable under normal operating conditions. Temperature codes range from T1 (temperature less or equal to 450°C) to T6 (temperatures less than or equal to 85° C).

According to the NEC, equipment brought into hazardous locations must meet specific requirements or “protection methods.” Equipment intended for use in a Division 1 area must be explosionproof, intrinsically safe, or purged/pressurized. Division 2 area equipment must be nonincendiary, nonsparking, purged/pressurized, hermetically sealed, or sealed.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) defines an intrinsically safe device (required in a Division 1 area) as “an apparatus in which at all circuits any spark or thermal effect is incapable of causing ignition of a mixture of flammable or combustible material in air under prescribed conditions.” This means that an intrinsically safe device must be incapable of sparking an explosion in all conditions, including situations where a flashlight bulb is broken and the hot filament is exposed to the flammable material.

On the other hand, a nonincendiary circuit (required in a Division 2 situation) is “a circuit in which any arc or thermal effect produced under intended operation conditions of the equipment is not capable, under the test conditions specified, of igniting the specified gas or vapor air mixture.”

The criteria for intrinsically safe equipment are thus much more stringent than those for nonincendiary equipment. To meet safety requirements for Division 1 and be intrinsically safe requires a manufacturer to severely limit the equipment’s applications.

A flashlight must be rated and listed for use in hazardous locations because it is considered a source of ignition. A flashlight creates heat by means of electric energy, has a filament that can burn at extremely high temperatures, and is “heat producing.” Add air and a hazardous atmosphere, and you have a recipe for ignition.


The logos (top to bottom) indicating product approval from the CSA, CEN/CENELEC, UL and FRMC.
Click here to enlarge image

Because equipment may be the source of ignition in an explosion, manufacturers must provide assurances that their equipment meets all applicable standards for safety. Often, these come in the form of ratings or listings determined by third-party organizations that indicate that the equipment has been checked for compliance.

The logos (top to bottom) indicating product approval from the CSA, CEN/CENELEC, UL and FRMC.
Click here to enlarge image

In the United States, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC) are two third-party testing organizations.

The logos (top to bottom) indicating product approval from the CSA, CEN/CENELEC, UL and FRMC.
Click here to enlarge image

UL is an independent, not-for-profit testing laboratory established to investigate materials, devices, products, equipment, construction, methods, and systems with respect to hazards affecting life and property. The registered UL mark on a product means samples of that manufacturer’s product have been checked for compliance with all applicable standards of safety. These standards are contributed by dozens of government and codes/standards organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).

The logos (top to bottom) indicating product approval from the CSA, CEN/CENELEC, UL and FRMC.
Click here to enlarge image

FMRC is a well-known international third-party testing organization that manufacturers use to obtain independent approvals certifying the reliability of their products and services. Tests are conducted in accordance with Factory Mutual standards or with other specified national or international standards, and the FM mark is recognized as the highest of standards. As with the UL listing, products displaying the FM mark clearly indicate where the product can be used.


Several organizations throughout the world define hazardous locations just as the NEC does in the United States. In Canada, it is the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC). The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) mark means all applicable safety standards for Canada have been met.

In Europe and throughout the world, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) sets the international standard. For manufacturers to sell in European markets, their products must bear the European Community CE mark. The European Union has implemented a system to protect the health and safety of users of manufactured products, just as the United States has with ANSI, NFPA, and other safety standards. Epsilon-X, another European standard, indicates compliance with all applicable safety requirements set forth by the European Normalization Committee (CEN) and the European Commission on Electrotechnical Standards (CENELEC). All European Union member countries recognize this mark as a legal means of entry under the European Directives for Potentially Explosive Atmospheres.

A firefighter must be confident that every one of his tools, including his flashlight, will perform when, where, and as needed. It is his responsibility to select the best equipment for any hazard he may face. A firefighter wouldn’t enter a burning structure using SCBA with a reputation for failure, and he shouldn’t enter such an area with any but the safest and most reliable flashlight. The space the firefighter works in dictates the performance requirements of the flashlight.

Knowing the incident area’s Division rating, whether hazardous gases are present, if it is a confined space, and if it requires a permit will determine your choice of a flashlight.

RAY SHARRAH is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Streamlight, Inc., which manufactures flashlights for the emergency services.

Selecting the proper equipment alone does not guarantee your safety; it must also be used properly. For example, battery-powered devices, if used improperly in hazardous locations, carry the risk of explosion. Explosions may be attributed to the misuse of alkaline batteries, which can produce excessive hydrogen gas emissions. These emissions may accumulate in the battery compartment without ventilation and can result in battery or compartment case rupture.

Battery Safety

To prevent this, firefighters should take the following precautions:

  • Do not mix batteries of different brands.
  • Do not mix old and new batteries.
  • Do not mix alkaline and nonalkaline batteries.
  • Do not use damaged batteries.
  • Observe the proper polarity (`/1) when installing batteries; do not install backward.
  • Look for flashlights featuring valves that relieve pressure buildup inside the product.
  • Look for flashlights featuring battery carriers, which help prevent improper battery insertion.

This UL-listed flashlight displays the UL rating “listed flashlight for use in hazardous locations.” The listing displays the Class, Division, Group, and Temperature Code designations for the product.
Click here to enlarge image


No posts to display