Ahhhh, the Roto-Ray. For those of us who grew up in or around East Coast fire companies as children, they are something we cherish dearly, a unique spinning tornado of light on the front of a shiny engine or truck. The department I work for, in a reach toward tradition and including a touch of modern technology, specified LED Roto-Rays on the fronts of our new fleet of engines and our future tractor-drawn aerial (minor refurb of Truck 7′s trailer with a new prime mover).
When I posted some pictures of our new quints on Facebook the other day, I was surprised to hear that some people aren’t fans of this fancy warning light. In response, I searched for similar feelings and found that there are, in fact, quite a few who don’t like them, and quite a few who do. So I guess, Roto-Rays are the Philadelphia Flyers of warning devices: You either love them or you hate them.
A write-up I found on them came from the Fenton Fire Apparatus website, from which I have paraphrased:
Roto-Ray Warning Lights have been used on fire and rescue apparatus for over 65 years. Roto-Rays are three sealed beam lights rotating @ 200 RPM in a horizontal plane that still commands attention in today’s traffic. The Roto-Ray Model 200 has three red sealed beam lights; the Roto-Ray Model 200W, available where permitted by state law, has one white and two red sealed beam lights.
Both models draw @ 10 amperes at 12.8 volts D.C. current [Since I'm not a technical guy, I don't know if this is for the new LED version or not]. Both models are available in four different mounting applications. Roto-Rays have an all spur gear drive train with all-driven components using ball bearings. The lamp spider is made of aluminum or polished chrome. All housings are made of 16 gauge steel. All Roto-Rays except the hidden mount are available in an all-chrome version. Roto-Ray Warning lights have been tested by an independent testing laboratory for compliance with applicable California and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards.
I also found the patent information on the Roto-Ray, which was issued in 1930 to Edward Rumsey. So that’s a little about them. Anecdotally, I think they work great. A few weeks ago I was driving down the road in daylight hours and I caught in my rear-view mirror this visible circle of red and white behind me. It was our Engine 6, pulling out onto the main drag about 3/4 of a mile behind me. Between the reflective chevron striping of the front bumper and the Roto-Ray, it was pretty visible. Scientifically, I have no proof (sounds like an Executive Fire Officer research paper to me).
I have found a few threads where these devices have been debated like at NassauFDRant and of course, at the ol’ Firehouse Forums. There are also dozens of pictures and videos of them online, like this beautiful Hyattsville rig.
So what say you? What’s the controversy, other than cost (which seems like some of the issue)? Or tell us your special Roto-Ray story. In the meanwhile, I’ll do some deep Internet searching to see if I can find more history (like where the first one was used) and I’ll post it if I find it. Stay safe and thanks for reading.
[Editor's Note: I have also added a picture of the front of one of our rigs so you can see it; I'll find the night shot at some point]