By Dan Pfannenstiel
Published Thursday, June 30, 2011
| From the July 2011 Issue of FireRescue
Don’t you wish we could work with unimpeded vision? The advantages of seeing what’s around you and where you’ve been, as well as being visible to others, cannot be overstated. Lumiflex, a start-up company in California, has created an illuminated cable, the Rescue Cablelight, in the hopes of providing emergency service crews a continuous light source on the scene. Many crews of various disciplines from West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colo., had the opportunity to test the Rescue Cablelight over the past several months, and I’d like to share our findings, but first a little background.
Rescue Cablelight co-designers Alex Parr and Robert Kelly forged a relationship several years ago in Parr’s workshop as they worked to create a product that could provide a continuous, 360-degree lighted pathway for emergency service professionals or civilians in and out of low-light areas. Parr, the electronic mind, and Kelly, a 25-year fire service professional, fashioned the Rescue Cablelight, formally called the Resc-hue Lite Line. Their invention was a finalist in the 2006 Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge and has been fetaured in journals for both emergency services and industrial lighting technologies.
The Rescue Cablelight is a 200-foot-long cable that’s spun with thin conductors and then coated in a phosphor-based chemical. The cable and the conductors are then housed in a clear, heat-resistive polymer that exceeds firefighter safety standards at 385 degrees F. When electric current passes through the conductors, the chemical is excited and the resultant byproduct is light (as opposed to heat). The cable is roughly 5 mm in diameter, has a tensile strength of 480 lbs., has directional and distance markings, and is 100% American-made.
The illuminating cable is stored on a metal electrical reel and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that’s housed with the electronics in a durable case. The system is designed so that the battery pack is anchored outside (or in a safety zone), and the illuminated cable pays off the reel as the rescuer carries it forward into a low-light area. The entire system weighs 22 lbs. (14 for the reel and cable; 8 for the case and electronics) and features a “flashing” mode for an even more visible alert. The light emitted is measured between 50 and 60 candelas, but more importantly, say the inventors, is that the light emitted is around 500 nanometers of wavelength (we know this as the color green), which is optimal for the human eye in low-light situations.
My crew thought of many uses for the Cablelight while we were evaluating it. To provide the most constructive feedback, we limited our review to ease of use, functionality and durability. A variety of crews were used in the evaluation, using training scenarios that involved live burns as well as theatrical smoke. The training scenarios involved rapid intervention, rope-assisted searches, ingress and egress, and technical rescue disciplines. We also evaluated the potential use of the product in relation to recent calls or training that we encountered in a variety of disciplines (MCI, hazmat, technical rescue, etc.).
In complete smoke-free darkness, the Cablelight illuminates the immediate area enough to perform tactile tasks. It’s visible in moderate to heavy hot and cold smoke conditions, and it’s easy to find (although the density of the smoke drives the visibility). It’s also visible on thermal imaging cameras.
When used in conjunction with a soft pack (stored in a lineman’s coil configuration), it deploys with ease. The electronic beep that’s transmitted does not irritate K9s working with technical search teams. Extremely cold weather does not adversely affect the product. And it is fairly impact-resistant, although we did damage it by giving it a significant strike with a forcible-entry tool.
In our use of the product, we envision that the Rescue Cablelight would be most beneficial in a controlled or slow-evolving incident rather than a time-compressed, rapidly expanding incident. Further, it has great potential in many scenarios, including an evening MCI; a low-light hazmat event where you need to shuttle people from point A to point B (triage or decontamination areas); evacuating large groups of people from structures (or large event gatherings) in the event of power failures; continuous lighting in sub-grade infrastructures (mass transit, etc.), rubble piles and confined space; creating visual barriers around safety hazards; and lighting ingress and egress paths for long-duration fire operations or technical rescues where multiple teams will be rotating through.
We did have some concerns about the product:
- An external light source seemed to wash out the light emitted by the Rescue Cablelight.
- The system is heavy.
- The deployment method on the reel sometimes got ahead of itself and became cumbersome.
- When used as a search line, it can’t easily be anchored.
- When the battery died and power was lost, the line was difficult to locate.
- There was no warning that the battery was getting low.
Lumiflex is aware of these issues and is currently working on future versions of the product to address optional deployment models (stuff sacks), reflectivity so that the line is visible with external light, intrinsically safe certification, data transmission capabilities and new battery technology. Further, the company seems committed to providing the best product possible, and they will customize the product to fit your organizational needs.
In many ways, fire service tools are heavily burdened by trade-offs—and the Rescue Cablelight is no different. The engineering of this product drives the cost ($3,600), and each department will have to make an educated decision as to whether the cost will serve their operational goals. But all in all, the technology used in the Rescue Cablelight is very encouraging to the fire service.
Lumiflex Rescue Cablelight
+ Exceptional level of brightness
+ Easy to find
+ Can be seen by thermal imagers
+ Easy to deploy when configured with a lineman’s coil within a soft pack
+ Works in extreme weather conditions
+ Great potential for use with many types of incidents
- External light washes out Cablelight illumination
1 Edwards Ct., Suite 207
Burlingame, CA 94010
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