By: Rob Rosovich, FPE, CFEI (Ret.)
Over the last decade fire retardant gels have been at the forefront of exposure protection in the WUI. Often called fire blocking gel, wildland gel, and medium retardants, no matter what they are called they all have one thing in common…they work. Names such as Barricade, Thermo-Gel, AFG Firewall, Phos-Chek, and FireIce have been used by the Fire Service and homeowners alike, and many media outlets both print and electronic have done many news stories on the success of these products. Barricade, Thermo-Gel, and AFG Firewall are all liquid concentrates. These concentrates consist of additives, surfactants, and polymers suspended in oil based liquid and are educted at the end of hose lines. Phos-Chek is a dry granular polymer that is batch mixed in a tank for aerial attacks. FireIce (the newest technology) is a dry baby fine powder that can be batch mixed or educted into the tanks of apparatus and discharged through standard hoses and nozzles. Several white papers have been published and many studies have been conducted on the subject matter. The NFPA Committee on Forest and Rural Fire Protection has proposed NFPA 1151, Standard for Gels Used in Wildland and Structural Fire Fighting. One white paper authored by Chief Cary Coleman with Intermountain Fire Rescue states: “In the wake of the destruction caused by the 'Witch' Fire of 2007, which started just two mile east of the Intermountain Fire Station and resulted in the fire destroying over 150 structures in our area, we embarked on a project to find a protecting gel product that could be easily employed by any assisting agency without needing costly equipment or extensive training that would act as a “force multiplier” allowing the scarce resources available to be more effective in both protecting structures and suppressing fire. After reviewing and testing several gels, including Thermo gel, Barricade, Flame guard and FireIce, we have concluded that FireIce is the most overall qualified and effective product of those tests.” Chief Coleman Summarizes: “Based on 14 years of firefighting in the California Urban Interface environment and having used and tested numerous products for suppressing fires and protecting structures we believe that FireIce fire gel creates ability for any fire suppression apparatus to protect structures and suppress a variety of fires without requiring costly equipment, training and maintenance. It provides for increased firefighter safety and allows for more efficient use equipment and personnel in a resource limited situation. It enhances effectiveness and efficient use of water. It is non-corrosive, non-toxic and easy to clean up. It is our opinion is an exceptional product and delivers upon it promise to suppress fire in a multitude of situations. We look forward to implementing it as another tool in our arsenal to combat fire, save live and property.” Another respected member of the Fire Service that has seen the capabilities of FireIce is Captain Tony Tricarico a 27 year veteran of the FDNY Special Operation Command. Recently in New York a motor vehicle live fire demonstration once again showed the knockdown and suppression capabilities of FireIce. Captain Tricarico stated: “First they gave a power point and show the things this stuff can do and then he mixes up a batch and shows you. He takes a hand full of the FireIce and puts a propane torch to his own hand without any consequence. No burns, nothing. Of course I had to try it and the same results, no injury. Then he tells you its non-toxic, environmentally friendly and takes himself a mouthful.” “Now we all go outside and he lights off a car tire and puts it out with the can, big deal. Now he pulls off his glove and lays his bare hand on the still smoking tire. The FireIce has displaced the heat and he can, seconds later, place his bare hand on the tire. Not bad. Now they light off a small SUV. Again he knocks down the fire quickly with water can mix with FireIce.” ”My thoughts on this new gel are that it’s a pretty good item. It suppresses vapors, cools the burning material, displaces the heat and coats it to prevent re-ignition.” “As I think about it I can come up with a dozen scenarios that this can be used for. I like it. It will not clog any of the pumper or hose or nozzle parts. It will not corrode any parts, because, unlike foam, it does not dry up and cleans up with very little water. I can see this as a useful tool in our arsenal.” FireIce has caught the attention of municipal, county, state, and federal agencies throughout the country as well as the international community. The Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office requested samples of FireIce to be evaluated by the forensics lab to ensure that FireIce would not contaminate a fire scene investigation. The labs reports conclude that FireIce does not impede the detection of accelerants. These same results were found when accelerant K-9s are used to detect accelerants mixed with FireIce. The new age of firefighting is here from RIT to Rehab to the 16 Life Safety Initiatives to ensure “Everyone Goes Home” we all must have the newest technology, tools, gear, and suppression products to continue to serve our communities effectively. When we become more efficient in the way we do our jobs, we reduce firefighter stress and fatigue, thus reducing the risk of injuries or death. The US Fire Administration reports that 44% of LODDs are due to stress and overexertion. These numbers are unacceptable; we must work smarter not harder. Today’s economic climate has left many departments in financial dire straits; FireIce has the ability to conserve on water usage, as well as reducing the time and manpower required on a single fire scene. This benefit equates to reduced firefighter stress, reduced overtime costs, reduced fuel costs and leaves other units to remain in service for better response times for other emergencies. Chief Officers are facing increased pressure to slash budgets any where possible. The dark clouds are looming with words of layoffs, station closures, reducing the manpower on first due engines. This is a recipe for disaster and compromises firefighter safety.