Wildfires and What’s Being Done? (Part III)

by Admin 13. July 2012 08:03
(A segmented look at Firefighting, Fire Extinguishing Products, and Fire Suppression)

We’ve looked at firefighting foams and now we’ll look into long term retardants and What’s Being Done…
What are long term retardants?
Quite simply it’s the red stuff dropping from aircraft across the world on wildfires! So let’s look at the technical side of Long Term Retardants…
A fire retardant is a substance other than water that reduces flammability of fuels or delays their combustion. This typically refers to chemical retardants but may also include substances that work by physical action, such as cooling the fuels or by initiating a chemical reaction that stops a fire.
Early fire retardants were mixtures of water and thickening agents, and later included borates and ammonium phosphates. Borates are chemical compounds which contain oxoanions of boron in an oxidation state and ammonium phosphate is salt of ammonia and phosphoric acid. Today’s long term retardants are comprised of Diammonium Sulfate, Monoammonium Phosphate, Diammonium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Hydroxypropyl, and Performance Enhancers of Diammonium Sulfate is a synonym for Ammonium Sulfate and other synonyms are Sulfuric Acid, Diammonium Salt, Actamaster, Dolamin, and Mascagnite. Ammonium Sulfates are an inorganic salts which is part of soil fertilizers and its purpose is to reduce the soil pH.
Monoammonium Phosphates is an ammonium dihydrogen phosphate and is formed when in a solution of phosphoric acid is added to ammonia until the solution is distinctly acidic. Monoammonium phosphate is often used in the blending of dry agricultural fertilizers and it supplies soil with the elements nitrogen and phosphorus which is usable by plants. The compound is also a component of the ABC powder in some dry chemical fire extinguishers. This substance is also supplied in an emerald green or aquamarine crystal growing box kit for kids.
Diammonium Phosphate is used as a fertilizer and when applied as plant food, it temporarily increases the soil pH.
Guar Gum, Hydroxypropyl is an inert ingredient used as a thickener. Its common characteristic is that it’s a water absorbing polymer.
Ok that sounds pretty technical and that’s what’s in the red stuff...  What are its effects on the environment?
Well according to the manufacturer they say it’s…
“Long-term retardants are the safest, most effective, and environmentally friendly retardants available. No other products meet the current USDA Forest Service specification for long-term retardant. This specification includes product qualification testing for combustion retarding effectiveness, environmental, safety and health and corrosion standards.”
Ok so the manufacturer states that its product is the safest, most effective, and environmentally friendly and no other product meets the US Forest Service Specification. Hmmmm lets have a look at that…
According to the USFS Qualified Products List they are correct! There are no other companies listed on the QPL with a product that is classified as a long term retardant… So they are a sole source provider to the Federal Government...
So how effective are long term retardants?
There are no public records with the US Forest Service for Lateral Ignition Flamespread Test or Combustion Retarding Effectiveness. So the answers are unknown to the public...
Let’s recap what we have learned so far. Chemical composition is very salty with fertilizer salts. Here is a breakdown according to the MSDS sheet listed with the US Forest Service.
 Components:                 
Diammonium Sulfate, CAS #7783-20-2 = >65%
Monoammonium Phosphate, CAS #7722-76-1 = >15%   
Diammonium Phosphate, CAS#7783-28-0 = >5%
Guar Gum, Hydroxypropyl, CAS#39421-75-5 = Performance Additives, CAS# Trade Secret = The trade secret performance additives are protected by “trade secret” but the manufacturer states “Our wildland fire retardants consist of fertilizer type salts, a coloring agent, corrosion inhibitors, and flow conditioners.”
Ok so there are corrosion inhibitors in the red stuff well what are they?
In an environmental assessment of long term retardants dated October 2007 conducted by the US Forest Service it states ” Previous retardant formulas contained sodium ferrocyanide 2 as a corrosion inhibitor. It was found that under certain conditions, sodium ferrocyanide poses greater toxicity to aquatic species and aquatic environments than retardant solutions without this agent.” While we cannot confirm what corrosion inhibitors are currently being used today in the current formulas because they are a “trade secret”. One can only assume that they have not improved since 2007 and here is why…
In July 2010 a Montana Federal Court Judge the Honorable Donald Malloy “ordered the U.S. Forest Service to take a hard look at its use of toxic aerial fire retardants and their impact on fish and wildlife habitats.”
Ok so that blows the claim by the sole supplier to the Federal Government that they are the “safest, most effective, and environmentally friendly retardants available.”
Hmmm, no testing results available on effectiveness. So the “safest, most effective, and environmentally friendly retardants available” on the market today?
Not so much according to the environmental watchdog groups who filed a federal lawsuit and not according to a federal judge.
So What’s Being Done?
“Molloy ordered the Forest Service to comply with the federal laws by Dec. 31, 2011, threatening contempt sanctions if the agency fails to do so.”

"The Federal Defendants are advised that failure to comply with this deadline may subject them to sanctions, including contempt proceedings, and could conceivably result in enjoining the continued use of aerially-applied fire retardant until the law enacted by Congress is complied with," Molloy wrote. "The issue requires immediate attention."  

That was July 2010 and in December 2010 headlines are;

 “U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula” announced “that he will be taking senior status in August 2011.”

Coincidence??? Guess we will have to wait and see…

So who is the manufacturer of the sole provider of products used by the Federal Government to retard and combat wildfires?

They are called Phos-Chek and the Phos-Chek Fire Safety Group is part of ICL Performance Products LP, North America's premier phosphate chemical manufacturer.

So who is ICL?

“ICL Performance Products LP is a worldwide leader in the manufacturing and marketing of phosphates, phosphoric acid, and phosphorus chemicals.”

Since it is a Limited Partnership company is there a bigger picture or group?

“ICL Performance Products LP, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Limited (ICL), based in Tel Aviv, Israel. ICL is engaged in the development, manufacture and marketing of fertilizers, industrial products, metallurgy, and performance products.”
So during this segment we discussed long term retardants and the jury is still out on them. We have also looked at firefighting foams more commonly known as Class “A” foam used for fire suppression. In the next segment we will look at fire gels or water enhancers and how they affect firefighting equipment, the environment and the effectiveness for fire suppression or exposure protection.

By: Rob Rosovich, Fire Protection Engineer

Wildfires and What’s Being Done? (Part II)

by Admin 2. July 2012 05:48

(A segmented look at Firefighting, Fire Extinguishing Products, and Fire Suppression)

In the last segment we touched on some of the things that are being done by the local, state, and federal agencies to reduce the threat of wildfires in the wildland urban interface. In this segment we’ll look at fire extinguishing products and their effectiveness.

It appears that wildfires have become a pandemic and we have all seen the news clips of airplanes and helicopters dropping some sort of liquid on a fire…
But what is that liquid?
Some of it may be clear, some of it appears to be bubbly, and some of it may be red or blue. More often than not they are fire extinguishing products and some have been around for close to 100 years to aid firefighting efforts and help to firefighters with fire suppression. So let’s look at these fire extinguishing products and how well do they work for fire suppression.
Firefighting foams are the chemicals that have been around longest ever since the early 1900’s and developed by a Russian Chemist named Alexsandr Loran. Originally firefighting foams were designed to combat flammable or combustible liquid fires. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when the foam manufacturers came up with the idea of making a formulation to be used on wildland fires which has evolved into Class “A” foam.
So what are firefighting foams or class “A” foams?
The chemical composition of these fire extinguishing products vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but all contain some sort of surfactant. Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of liquid (usually water). Surfactants are usually organic compounds which are carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon and cyanides. Other components of firefighting foams are organic solvents such as trimethyltrimethylene glycol and hexylene glycol, foam stabilizers such as lauryl alcohol, and corrosion inhibitors.
Now that we have your attention of what’s in firefighting foams! Let’s look at their effects on the environment…
The US Forest Service QPL (Qualified Products List) specifies a mix ratio of 0.1 to 1.0 % foam concentrate to water and clearly states that they must be mixed within that ratio to comply with their specifications. Now on the other hand firefighters are taught in the Fire Academy to mix firefighting foam at a ratio of 3 gallons of foam concentrate mixed with 97 gallons of water to get an end product of 3% foam. Hmmm the US forest Service says a maximum of 1%... Why?? Let’s look at toxicity on mammals and fish…
Acute Oral Toxicity Mammals (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = 4378 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it also is moderately irritating to non washed and washed eyes, and has a 0.9 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = >5050 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also moderately irritating to non washed and washed eyes and has a 1.4 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
Tyco Silv-Ex = >5050 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also severely irritating to non washed and washed eyes and has a 2.7 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
National Foam KnockDown = >5000 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also moderately irritating to non washed eyes and mildly irritating to washed eyes and has a 1.2 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
**Note** The lower the Lethal Dosage value (LD₅₀) is - the more toxic it is.

Fish Toxicity (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = LC₅₀ 11 mg/L soft water and 10 mg/L hard water.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = LC₅₀ 17mg/L soft water and 10mg/L hard water.
Tyco Silv-Ex = LC₅₀ 46mg/L soft water and 28mg/L hard water.
National Foam KnockDown = 28mg/L soft water and 26mg/L hard water.
**Note** The lower the Lethal Concentration value (LC₅₀) is - the more toxic it is.
Let’s look at what firefighting foams do to fire equipment? We already established that firefighting foams contain corrosion inhibitors. Corrosion inhibitors are a chemical compound that decreases the corrosion rates of a material, typically a metal or an alloy. Corrosion tests are designed to measure the loss of structural integrity of the affected metal and potential loss of the metal item. Significant corrosion in fire pumps or aircraft may have catastrophic effects to human life. Corrosion testing is based on mils-per- year and the US Forest Service is looking to minimize the risk of corrosion- caused fire equipment failure in the field. The benchmark is less than (Uniform Corrosion Partial Submersion at 120˚F (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = 0.1 Aluminum, 1.9 Steel, and 0.5 Yellow Brass.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = 0.9 Aluminum, 4.7 Steel, and 0.7 Yellow Brass
Tyco Silv-Ex = 0.1 Aluminum, 4.9 Steel, and 3.5 Yellow Brass
National Foam KnockDown = 0.4 Aluminum, 1.1 Steel, and 0.1 Yellow Brass
While all of these firefighting foams comply with the US Forest Service Specifications it should be noted that the above testing results is public record and are published on the US Forest Service’s website.
How effective are firefighting foams in aiding firefighters in fire suppression or fire extinguishment?
Simply it last for seconds compared to water!!
Here are the test results from the US Forest Service QPL list.
Lateral Ignition Flamespread Test (LIFT)
Phos Chek WD 881 = 211 seconds compared to Water = 112 seconds
Phos Chek WD 881-C = 255 seconds compared to Water = 124 seconds
Tyco Silv-Ex = 139 seconds compared to Water = 128 seconds
National Foam KnockDown = 225 seconds compared to Water = 116 seconds
Basically what we have learned from this segment is that firefighting foam is corrosive to firefighting equipment, it’s not that great for the environment, and it’s not very effective compared to water.
So stop wasting the taxpayer’s money!
On a side note National Foam as well as AFG Firewall, Kidde, and Ansul are all owned by Tyco. In the next segment we will look at Long Term Retardants the red stuff being dumped from airplanes and helicopters…  

By: Rob Rosovich, Fire Protection Engineer

Wildfires and What’s Being Done?

by Admin 25. June 2012 06:10

(A segmented look at Firefighting, Fire Extinguishing Products, and Fire Suppression)

In this segment we’ll look at fire extinguishing products and their effectiveness.

It appears that wildfires have become a pandemic and we have all seen the news clips of airplanes and helicopters dropping some sort of liquid on a fire…
But what is that liquid?
Some of it may be clear, some of it appears to be bubbly, and some of it may be red or blue. More often than not they are fire extinguishing products and some have been around for close to 100 years to aid firefighting efforts and help to firefighters with fire suppression. So let’s look at these fire extinguishing products and how well do they work for fire suppression.
Firefighting foams are the chemicals that have been around longest ever since the early 1900’s and developed by a Russian Chemist named Alexsandr Loran. Originally firefighting foams were designed to combat flammable or combustible liquid fires. It wasn’t until the 1980’s when the foam manufacturers came up with the idea of making a formulation to be used on wildland fires which has evolved into Class “A” foam.
So what are firefighting foams or class “A” foams?
The chemical composition of these fire extinguishing products vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but all contain some sort of surfactant. Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of liquid (usually water). Surfactants are usually organic compounds which are carbon-containing compounds such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon and cyanides. Other components of firefighting foams are organic solvents such as trimethyltrimethylene glycol and hexylene glycol, foam stabilizers such as lauryl alcohol, and corrosion inhibitors.
Now that we have your attention of what’s in firefighting foams! Let’s look at their effects on the environment…
The US Forest Service QPL (Qualified Products List) specifies a mix ratio of 0.1 to 1.0 % foam concentrate to water and clearly states that they must be mixed within that ratio to comply with their specifications. Now on the other hand firefighters are taught in the Fire Academy to mix firefighting foam at a ratio of 3 gallons of foam concentrate mixed with 97 gallons of water to get an end product of 3% foam. Hmmm the US forest Service says a maximum of 1%... Why?? Let’s look at toxicity on mammals and fish…
Acute Oral Toxicity Mammals (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = 4378 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it also is moderately irritating to non washed and washed eyes, and has a 0.9 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = >5050 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also moderately irritating to non washed and washed eyes and has a 1.4 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
Tyco Silv-Ex = >5050 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also severely irritating to non washed and washed eyes and has a 2.7 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
National Foam KnockDown = >5000 LD₅₀ (mg/Kg) it is also moderately irritating to non washed eyes and mildly irritating to washed eyes and has a 1.2 primary irritation index for skin irritation.
**Note** The lower the Lethal Dosage value (LD₅₀) is - the more toxic it is.

Fish Toxicity (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = LC₅₀ 11 mg/L soft water and 10 mg/L hard water.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = LC₅₀ 17mg/L soft water and 10mg/L hard water.
Tyco Silv-Ex = LC₅₀ 46mg/L soft water and 28mg/L hard water.
National Foam KnockDown = 28mg/L soft water and 26mg/L hard water.
**Note** The lower the Lethal Concentration value (LC₅₀) is - the more toxic it is.
Let’s look at what firefighting foams do to fire equipment? We already established that firefighting foams contain corrosion inhibitors. Corrosion inhibitors are a chemical compound that decreases the corrosion rates of a material, typically a metal or an alloy. Corrosion tests are designed to measure the loss of structural integrity of the affected metal and potential loss of the metal item. Significant corrosion in fire pumps or aircraft may have catastrophic effects to human life. Corrosion testing is based on mils-per- year and the US Forest Service is looking to minimize the risk of corrosion- caused fire equipment failure in the field. The benchmark is less than (Uniform Corrosion Partial Submersion at 120˚F (Foam Concentrate):
Phos Chek WD 881 = 0.1 Aluminum, 1.9 Steel, and 0.5 Yellow Brass.
Phos Chek WD 881-C = 0.9 Aluminum, 4.7 Steel, and 0.7 Yellow Brass
Tyco Silv-Ex = 0.1 Aluminum, 4.9 Steel, and 3.5 Yellow Brass
National Foam KnockDown = 0.4 Aluminum, 1.1 Steel, and 0.1 Yellow Brass
While all of these firefighting foams comply with the US Forest Service Specifications it should be noted that the above testing results is public record and are published on the US Forest Service’s website.
How effective are firefighting foams in aiding firefighters in fire suppression or fire extinguishment?
Simply it last for seconds compared to water!!
Here are the test results from the US Forest Service QPL list.
Lateral Ignition Flamespread Test (LIFT)
Phos Chek WD 881 = 211 seconds compared to Water = 112 seconds
Phos Chek WD 881-C = 255 seconds compared to Water = 124 seconds
Tyco Silv-Ex = 139 seconds compared to Water = 128 seconds
National Foam KnockDown = 225 seconds compared to Water = 116 seconds
Basically what we have learned from this segment is that firefighting foam is corrosive to firefighting equipment, it’s not that great for the environment, and it’s not very effective compared to water.
So stop wasting the taxpayer’s money!
On a side note National Foam as well as AFG Firewall, Kidde, and Ansul are all owned by Tyco. In the next segment we will look at Long Term Retardants the red stuff being dumped from airplanes and helicopters…  

 

By: Rob Rosovich, Fire Protection Engineer

Switching To A Higher Gear

by Admin 22. March 2012 07:03

I have covered the major fire suppression agents in previous articles and have tried to be as neutral as possible in those presentations. However, I have to admit that I am quite partial to gel agents (particularly FireIce). Now, what I will not do is tell you that other products are terrible or ineffective. They have purpose and a place/time to be used. There is no disputing that fact. I do believe that there are some rather shoddy products out there that I would prefer not utilize (and frankly would rather use straight water than to waste time on those products). Will I tell you what they are? NO. I’m not here to bash anyone else’s product. What I am here to do is to educate Firefighters on how to properly deploy a gel agent and make it work for you.

Utilizing FireIce as a suppression agent is quite easy. Do you have to change how you fight fire? Absolutely not! Can you change how you fight fire? YES you can! As this article progresses, we will discuss how we can change what we are doing, when utilizing FireIce.

We have all been taught the infamous T, Z and O patterns for nozzle operation. Many have learned how to be effective with a solid stream, while others may not have had that opportunity. These methods do not necessarily have to change when adding FireIce to the operation. However, there are a few nuances that can be employed.

FireIce can be utilized with ANY stream pattern (fog, straight, or solid). We have found, in our own testing, that the straight or solid stream is the stream of choice. Fortunately, the fire service has begun its movement away from wide fog patterns within enclosed areas, opting for the decreased steam production of a tight stream. Wide-angle streams break down very rapidly in high-heat environments and create a LOT of steam (which generally tends to displace firefighters more than anything else). The formulation of FireIce allows us to use a narrow- angle fog pattern without creating the steam-bath that straight water or even foam streams produce. So, no matter what you are used to using (stream-wise), FireIce is just as effective.

How about those flow-rates?

Well, guess what? That doesn’t change either! You can utilize the nozzle, hose, and normal GPM, pump and nozzle pressures that you already utilize. That makes implementation of the product that much easier! We are not re-inventing the wheel. We’re just enhancing its performance!

We discussed in the last article (Changing Gears, part IV), how a gel product works, so I won’t duplicate that information here. What I will attempt to do is introduce you to the tactics of using FireIce gel and help you understand how it is slightly different than the norm.

I know what you are thinking: “You said we don’t have to change anything.” Well, you really

don’t have to. It’s a choice. However, if you want to get the “full” benefit of a gel, your tactics will have to change slightly.

Your stream application will be the same. The difference is…..you won’t have to use as much water to accomplish the same end result.

Now….hold on a minute…don’t get the lynching mob together just yet! I know that you have had EVERY salesman of EVERY new product you have seen tell you the exact same thing. Right? Yeah, I’ve gotten those sales pitches too! Some of them are true…some…..not so much.

You have to remember how a gel works. Rather than the molecules of water being separated, decreasing the surface tension, as with a foam product (which means you will still have water rapidly evaporate into steam or just run off the burning material), FireIce binds the water molecules together into a gel form, making them stick to the burning material and absorb the heat. FireIce will “coat” the burning materials, as well as the other surfaces that are off- gassing and preparing to ignite. This action allows the product to absorb the heat at the source AND prevent further off-gassing of nearby materials (which will eventually lead to flashover). Therefore, once the agent has been applied to the burning area, you can shut off the nozzle!

The application/tactic is very simple. When advancing to the fire, if you encounter rolling flames, at the ceiling, simply coat the ceiling and upper walls. You will prevent them from off- gassing, as well as cool the overhead. Continue advancing to the seat of the fire. Once the seat is in stream-range, utilize whatever pattern you like on the burning materials in short burst. Look at it this way. Do a quick knock-down of the fire, shut off the nozzle, wait a second for your visibility to return and if you see more flames, re-apply the product in another short burst.

This is not an extreme change of tactics, however, it is slightly different than going in and discharging 125-150GPM like a wild-man and hoping for the best. I have seen that tactic used on hundreds of fires. Water will evaporate, run off or just never make it to the actual “seat” of the fire. Foam products will do the same thing (for the most part). Foam is slightly better than straight water but only slightly. FireIce actually enhances the properties that water inherently possesses, rather than break it down.

Generally speaking, we call this tactic “painting”. If you think of it in those terms, it may make more sense. If you are painting something, do you just go crazy with the paint? No. You “coat” the object you are painting with short, sweeping burst! Otherwise, you will have a mess on your hands and paint running everywhere. FireIce is utilized in the same fashion. We want to make short “painting” strokes with the stream and “coat” the materials that are burning. It’s just that simple.

You CAN use FireIce the same way you have always used water/foam but taking a different approach will actually save you time, effort AND water! That is the ultimate goal. This product does not take away the fun of the interior attack (as some folks have worried it will). But let’s face facts. The “fun” at a fire only last for about 10-15minutes. After that….it’s all just plain

WORK! None of us want to spend hours upon hours mopping up after a fire. We are tired, wet, sore and hungry. We want to get back to the house, clean up the rigs and tools, and call it a good day! Right? We can keep doing things the way we always have but…..we will never get more effective than we already are and we will continue to bust our humps doing the laborious task of overhaul for hours after a fire is declared out.

There is an old adage that goes: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got!”

Change is hard to take sometimes but when it makes sense, you have to go with it. Don’t let the future of firefighting pass you buy.

Be safe out there. Till next time………