by Alex Spannuth
The Kestrel 5500 feels, looks, and operates like it was designed for the fireline. With a tough exterior, bulky feel, and the transition to AA batteries, it fits in with most fire operations and apparatuses. Where the 5500 sets itself apart from the rest of fires’ un-user-friendly devices is the customization and nearly Sunnto-esque look. Over the last couple of years I have seen the rapid transition to user-friendly iPads for mapping and information transfer, evolving from the standard Garmin 60csx track, a couple of weathers taken and recorded in chicken scratch, coupled with a generic comment like “Division Zulu looks good.” The 5500 is pushing that evolution within weather observation.
The tech-friendly and ultimately user friendly 5500 has a mostly reliable Bluetooth option for quick and easy transfer of info in the field. Like the new Garmins this has been good for ICs wanting info on the line. For the operations folks tracking trends this nifty device has a built-in barometer, PIG calculator, standard weather observations (wind, temp, RH, etc.), and the ability to save any observation you want.
This leads into the biggest strength/weakness of the 5500 – trends, not hard data. As with any device that requires calibration, the Kestrel is good for trends and one should be wary to take every number for hard fact. The RH will bounce quite a bit with micro climate, how sweaty you are, or if you are talking to a buddy too close to the sensor. If you give it some time it will settle and you can get pretty close and track trends pretty darn well. The thermometer was spot on during my trial with little to no variation from the sling psychrometer. This is one place where the 5500 really shines. Also accurate, but questionable for hard data, is the PIG (Probability of Ignition) calculator. How does it know aspect (always south?), elevation above, level, below, or shaded PIG? Great for trends, but the picky FEMO may want to go to the charts. One final element that will take some practice: ensuring thtat your Bluetooth data link stays connected with your smart device, as at times it seemed to drop out.
All said and done, the 5500 was a sweet piece of equipment on the fireline that proved itself well. As with most previous Kestrels, it did great with wind measurements. Combine that standard of excellence with an increased aptitude for temp, barometric pressure, and data manipulation — and you have a good piece of fire tech. This is a good enough update to the standard weather meter to hold a little end of year cash out, or even prioritize for a pre-season purchase. Think of the money (and time) you’ll save with easy-to-acquire AA batteries, as well as the innovative connection with smart phones and data export that will make data-sharing faster and more efficient. Sharing better and quicker weather data and interpretaion can increase our time to respond — an argument for the value of this tool as one of many in our arsenal of weather tracking that supports a safer fireground.
— Review by Alex Spannuth – Fire Effects Monitor. Tested by Spannuth, Ron Steffens and others in Wyoming, Utah and Africa, Summer-Fall, 2016.