FDCam Reviews: THE FOXFURY COMMAND 20-FIRE

A side view of the Command 20

STATS:

  • Weight:  8.4 oz stated (8.9 oz on our scale)Logo
  • Light Output:  60 Lumens
  • Beam Profile:  Flood (Wide, General Area Lighting)
  • Run Time on “High”:  16hr (rechargeable – 7hr)
  • Price:  $84.99 – $95.99

PROS:

  • Rugged, reliable, and heat resistant
  • Doesn’t interfere with operation of helmet visor
  • Hides its weight well, due to excellent balance
  • Lengthy runtime even on high
  • The two green LED’s in the array help with depth perception and color rendering in mild to moderate smoke conditions

CONS:

  • Not as bright as some others in its class (as it is a headlamp, this could just as easily go in the PRO column)
  • Unfocused beam not very useful outdoors
  • Long runtime comes at the cost of increased weight
  • Needs a helmet equipped with Bourke® shields or EZ-Flips® to really shine.
  • Can’t really be used as a regular headlamp without ordering additional straps

BEST FOR:

  • Providing general work lighting in mild to moderate smoke conditions
  • Overhaul
  • Helmet Cam Filming of Interior Operations

COMPETITORS:

    • Princeton Tec Apex
    • Streamlight Septor
    • Pelican 2640 HeadsUp Lite
    • Petzl Duo LED 14
    • Surefire Saint
Not enough spill beam for general work.

Lights like this Pelican Big Ed have a narrow beam angle. Great for cutting smoke, not so great at other illumination tasks.

INTRODUCTION:  As firefighters, we tend to look for lights with tight beams to help us see through thick smoke.  What we often fail to realize, is that even during interior operations, most of the time we spend in the structure is spent in fairly light smoke conditions, and that darkness is the main contributor to poor visibility.

Smoke cutting lights can be impressive and fun to use, and during operations in banked-down, unventilated areas they are irreplaceable.  But they also have some very real short-comings.  Their tight beam patterns give you almost no peripheral lighting.  Because of this, your eyes tend to focus mainly on the beam itself.  This can create literal tunnel vision that can get you hurt, cause you to miss a rescue, or pass over a route to the seat of the fire, simply because you weren’t aware of the environment you were operating in.  In addition, watching an intense beam of light decreases your night vision, making objects in the darkness outside the beam even harder to see. All of these qualities become even more apparent during overhaul.

That’s where a light like FoxFury’s Command 20-Fire can be a real life-saver.  Its wide, floody beam will never be as sexy as that smoke-splitting beam of the Streamlight Survivor or FoxFury’s own Breakthrough BT2.   But the increase in peripheral vision and overall situational awareness you achieve with the Command-20, is absolutely invaluable.   They are also immensely useful during overhaul and anywhere broad scene lighting is preferred, such as nighttime vehicle extrications.

OVERVIEW:  FoxFury fire helmet lights have become a pretty common sight on the gear rack these days.  Their floody, useable beams and unobtrusive, low-profile design have made them an extremely popular choice for hands-free illumination on the fireground.  They’re rugged, waterproof to 20ft, and rated to NFPA standards for heat resistance (500℉ for 5 minutes).  They come in a number of different configurations, all LED, and range in brightness from 40 Lumens, all the way up to a blistering 520 Lumens!

Released in 2007, the Command 20 is Foxfury’s most popular helmet light.   It has been on my fire helmet for the last few months, and I don’t see it going anywhere any time soon.  Its combination of panoramic illumination, long runtime, and tough construction make it a great choice for scene lighting, overhaul, and as a supplement to your primary box or right-angle light.   It also makes an ideal lighting option to make the most of your FDCam helmet camera.

Nice view of the LED module

The Command 20-Fire fits snugly against the shield of most helmets.

BODY/CONFIGURATION:  The Command 20 is a headlamp-style, multi-LED strip light.  Like many industrial headlamps, its power source is remote from its lighting module.  The 4-AA (or rechargeable) battery pack is located in the back of the unit and is connected to the 20 LED array up front by a hi-temp silicone helmet strap and a single silicone coated, teflon-jacketed cable.  This configuration allows the 8½ oz weight of the Command 20 to be evenly distributed over the entire helmet, instead of being focused uncomfortably on the front.

The lighting module up front is a very low-profile piece.  It’s gently curved shape nestles nicely at the bottom of the helmet shield and does not usually obstruct the unit or department ID, nor does it prevent you from properly raising and lowering your faceshield.  It’s a very streamlined, snag-resistant design that, if not for the battery holder, would almost seem like it was built into the helmet.

Close up including adjustment straps

The LED module on the Command 20 is hinged to allow it to pivot up and down. The the location of the shield and the brim of some traditional fire helmets limits its range of motion, however.

The LED array also has a tilt feature that allows you to direct the light higher or lower, depending on what you are trying to illuminate.  This feature can also be useful when you want to conference with another firefighter without blinding them, as you can pivot the module to direct the light downwards out of their eyes.

Unfortunately, the way the module hinges on the shield prevents this feature from working to its full potential with all helmet styles.  On my issued helmet (Morning Pride Ben2), the range of motion is limited to about 20°.

Hot ceiling directly on silicone strap

The silicone straps have proven very heat resistant in my experience. Here’s my FoxFury getting covered with red hot coals from a fully involved attic.

Both the battery pack and LED module are constructed from nylon or some similar tough polymer.  The protective lens over the LEDs is made from clear polycarbonate which is less prone to breaking than glass.   While not as heat resistant as glass,  the polycarbonate lenses are affordable and easy to replace.  And while I have seen a few of these lights where the lens got warped or hazed, I have not seen one where heat caused any problems with the unit.  A quick call to FoxFury got them taken care of.

While heat resistance is nice, water resistance is crucial to a good fire service light.  It takes a pretty hot fire to wreck a decent light, but one misguided hose stream can put a quick end to even a quality light that isn’t water resistant.  The Command 20 goes a step beyond “water resistant”, and is actually waterproof to 20ft.  For you USAR guys, this means it will still work normally, even submerged.

The silicone helmet strap is definitely capable of taking some heat.  It’s also strong enough to pull double duty holding sprinkler wedges or whatever other knick-knacks you want to stick up there.   The straps have a smooth, rubbery texture that makes them way harder to adjust than an elastic strap.  The upside to this is that it stays put.  And you don’t normally need to adjust the strap on a helmet light, as you would have to do with a normal headlamp.  I have yet to have to tighten the strap on my light.   It also sheds debris readily.  So if the light gets soiled, stuff doesn’t stay embedded like it would with elastic straps.

Also visible is the silicone jacketed power cable.

The battery pack makes up most of the weight of the Command 20. The cable is secured to the pack and cannot be unplugged from it or the LED module.

I must admit that the first time I saw it, the battery pack seemed kind of awkward, chunky even.  It certainly accounts for most of the light’s mass, but it’s curved body hugs the round profile of the helmet well and is less obtrusive than it looks.   It doesn’t jiggle or move around, even under very rigorous use.  The battery pack also has a built-in flashing red LED tail-light.  A nice feature that, as far as I know, is unique to the Command 20.

Front of Command 20

To activate the light you simply press the button. This activates the four center LEDs. Pressing it again gives you the twelve central LEDs. And pressing it a third time, gives you the full strip of eighteen white LEDs as well as the two green LEDs. Overall, it is a very simple, useful UI (user interface, for those out there who aren’t flashlight nerds)

CONTROLS:  The Command 20 is activated by a small, silicone clad button at the top, left-hand side of the LED housing.  I find it rather difficult to activate with gloved hands.  The button is small, un-textured, and fairly inaccessible if you are using a standard visor-style faceshield.  On the other hand, when combined with Bourke-style flip-downs the Command-20’s switch is just about right on the money.  Just leaving your visor in the down position works fine, too. But I personally leave my face shield up during everything but extrication, so until my EZ flips arrive, I am pretty much stuck having to remove a glove to activate the switch.

The feel of the switch is good.  There’s no click, but a very definite stop at the point where it activates.  No mushiness or play is apparent.  I do wish there was some texturing or checkering on the rubber boot, because as a helmet light, you are going to be trying to find it by feel.

BATTERIES:  The Command 20 is available with two battery options, an alkaline 4AA and a nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable.  The alkaline model boasts an excellent 16 hour run time on the highest setting!  The Ni-MH rechargeable is no slouch either, coming in at 7 hours of continuous use on high.   Basically, you will probably give out long before your Command 20 does.  On low both models will last for up to 30 hours continuously!

Unfortunately, with regard to runtime, there is no free lunch.   And in this case, weight is the price you pay for runtime.  It isn’t that the light itself is heavy, but 4 AA batteries alone weigh almost 3½ ounces (comprising almost 40% of the weight of the Command 20).  Personally, I prefer light weight to long runtime, so I would really like to see some more battery options from FoxFury.  Depending on the voltage requirements of the LEDs, a 4-AAA or 3-AA option would make this light all the more appealing.

LIGHT SOURCE:  Illumination from the Command 20 comes in the form of an array of LED bulbs curving around the front of the light.  Two of the LED bulbs are green, which FoxFury states is an ideal wavelength for penetrating smoke.  They also claim that they improve color rendering and depth perception.  I was a bit skeptical about these statements at first.  Warmer tints like yellow or amber have long been considered the color of choice for penetrating fog and smoke.  I’d never heard of green in this application before.  As it turns out, FoxFury’s claims are pretty accurate.  To my eye, the odd green tint does work to enhance depth perception and prevent that blueish, washed-out look that white LEDs often exhibit.

FoxFury's other models have fewer, but brighter LED's with optics that allow them to throw their light further.

Here’s a close-up of the FoxFury’s LED module, clearly showing the lens (technically called a window) and 5mm bulbs

In regards to the brand of LEDs FoxFury uses in the Command 20, I’m not quite sure.  According to FoxFury, they are generic 5mm LED bulbs with Cree chips.  I’ll revise the review if I find out more.  Either way, at a total output of 60 lumens, we probably aren’t looking at cutting edge LED technology here, but that isn’t what this light is about.

BEAM:  The Command 20’s beam pattern is really unlike any other light I’ve used.  It has a very wide,  panoramic beam (if you can even call it a “beam”) that casts a diffuse illumination over nearly everything  in the direction my helmet faces.  There is very little discernable hot-spot.  Just a broad area of light that kind of fades into darkness towards the edges.  When you look at the beam shape on a wall, you see two subtle orbs of slightly greenish light.

At only 60 lumens it is certainly not terribly bright by todays standards, but for me it hits a sweet spot.   Bright enough to see what you need to see without blinding everyone you look at.   The brighter lights in this class, like the Princeton Tec Apex are downright painful if directed into the eyes, even at greater than room distances.  My crew also wears Command 20’s and I have only found them blinding at very close range, within around 6 feet or so.  Although you should be courteous and either tilt your helmet or cover the lens with a gloved hand when talking to or looking directly at people in close proximity to you.

Turned on

Bright enough to do the job. Not bright enough to make you a walking distraction.

Another thing to consider is the way a helmet mounted light is used.  It points where you look.  You don’t have the same kind of control over it that you do with a handheld.  With that in mind, you don’t want a light that has tremendous range.  The level of brightness should drop off quickly as you move away from the light.  Otherwise you risk blinding firefighters who aren’t even working near you.

The Command 20 is also not so bright as to blind you with reflected light when moving through dense smoke.  I have experimented quite a bit with different flashlights at fires, and have found that a wide, unfocused beam and a high light output (150+ Lumen ) are a bad combination for operating in thick smoke.  Enough of the light seems to get reflected back at you that visibility is almost  the same as if you had no flashlight at all.

The beam on the Command 20 has it’s downsides though.  It’s not very helpful in dense smoke.  It just doesn’t have a focused enough beam to penetrate to any real extent.  It is also not very useful outdoors.   The beam seems to just vanish into the darkness once ranges get over 60ft or so.

A Word On Lighting Your Shots When Using Your FDCam:Here at FDCam.com, we have an additional role for FoxFury’s helmet lights:  We use them to enhance our video quality.  There is nothing that bugs me more than seeing a potentially great video get turned into an audio file on entry because the wearer didn’t have a light.  Half of what we do takes place in the darkness, even during daylight hours.  We are generally operating indoors, in a structure where (if the truckies are doing their jobs) power has been shut off.  Your primary right angle or box light can help some with this, but like I said before, it greatly limits what the viewer can see.

FoxFury helmet lights. Available at FDCam.com.

FDCam is the first company to package fire helmet camera’s capable of withstanding the rigors of interior operations, together with high quality lighting options capable of withstanding that same punishment.  We have access to a huge number of lighting solutions from many different brands.  We’ve tried a lot of them,  and the Command 20 (as well as its pricier 100 Lumen stablemate, the Discover-Fire) is one of the best lighting options for this application.  It is not so bright as to ruin the views of the flames, but luminous enough to give the viewer a small idea of your surroundings.  It’s beam is unobtrusive and does not distract from what should be the focus of the video, the action.

Conclusion:

If you have (or plan to get) Bourke-style flip-down eye-shields, then I’d say the Command 20-Fire is an outstanding pick for helmet mounted lighting.   If not, it is still a great choice, it’s just not living up to it’s full potential.  It is built and backed by an American company with great customer service.  So even if you’re on a department that sees a lot of fire, your Command 20 should give you years of good use.

-Arin Pace

President and Co-Founder

FDCam, LLC

30 thoughts on “FDCam Reviews: THE FOXFURY COMMAND 20-FIRE

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