The Sierra County Commission approved the purchase at its Jan. 19 meeting of an ultra-high-pressure fire suppressor and a Ford F-250 pickup truck to transport it.
The county will be the first firefighting entity in the state to acquire this equipment, which will improve response times and early containment of fires while conserving water, said Paul Tooley, the county’s emergency services administrator, in an interview with the Sun.
The suppressor, which is manufactured by HMA Fire, a leading UHP manufacturer based in Fall River, WI, will be obtained at a cost of $42,635 in a sole-source purchase from 411 Equipment in Albuquerque. The pickup will cost a little under $45,000. By comparison, a “brush” truck capable of going off-road costs $200,000; a ladder truck can cost as much as $1 million.
The investment in UHP capability, which will be paid for out of the emergency services department’s annual operating funds, will help county firefighters fulfill their motto to “get the wet stuff on the red stuff” more quickly, Tooley said. The pickup can be more rapidly deployed than a fire engine to the site of a fire, where first responders can set up the suppressor and begin to get the blaze under control without needing to wait until reinforcements arrive.
The UHP suppressor will also make more efficient use of water. In places like Sierra County, where access to enough water is often an issue for firefighters, this is a big plus.
HMA Fire’s website features videos showing actual use of UHP to snuff out a variety of blazes. It also provides a water-usage comparison between conventional and UHP fire suppression. Fire fighters using conventional fire-fighting equipment (95 gallons/minute at 125 pounds per square inch) were able to extinguish 90 percent of a jet fuel fire in about a minute, using 95 gallons of water. With UHP (20 gpm at 1,450 psi), an equivalent jet fuel fire was extinguished completely in a little over half a minute, using just 13.6 gallons of water.
Here’s why the UHP suppressor uses water so efficiently. Water puts out fires by a combination of cooling and suffocating flames. Water droplets cool by absorbing the heat from the flames. As the droplet takes up heat, the water on the surface evaporates. That evaporated water, or steam, draws oxygen away from the flames, thereby suffocating the fire. According to the HMA Fire website, at ultra-high pressures, water droplets are about 1/64th the size of conventional droplets. This means that, in same volume of water, the smaller droplets will have about 10 times more surface area than a conventional droplet and can absorb much more heat.
Another advantage of UHP is that it causes significantly less water damage to property, Tooley said. With conventional fire suppression, only a fraction of the water used actually puts out the fire. The remainder pools up and causes water damage. With UHP, almost 100 percent of the water absorbs the heat of the fire, according to Tooley.
Manipulating the UHP suppressor, which utilizes a ¾-inch hydraulic line rather than the approximately two-inch hose employed in conventional fire fighting, will be less physically taxing for firefighters. Although the pressure is higher, the volume of water is much less, so firefighters will not experience as much difficulty holding and directing the hose. Tooley likened the experience of using UHP to “painting the water on to the fire.” Clean up will be easier, too, as the hydraulic line can simply be rolled up into the truck.
The UHP suppressor accommodates the trademarked foam Sierra County emergency services uses to fight almost all fires. This is a non-toxic, biodegradable foam containing microbes that help degrade organic residues remaining after the fire.
The estimated delivery for the UHP suppressor and pickup truck is six to eight weeks. The department’s Ford F-150 will be donated to Las Palomas Volunteer Fire Department, where it will be repurposed for extrication.
As Sierra County will lead the way in employing UHP, Tooley expects emergency services to host a steady stream of visitors from fire departments in the region to see what the new equipment can do and how it performs.