Fighting fires when the water source is frozen

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A grant from DuPont’s FIRE program is helping the Taber Fire Department buy equipment to help them fight fires in situations where access to water is difficult.

The volunteer firefighters handle fires and other emergencies over a mainly rural area, as well as the town of Taber. In rural areas, farms may have a dugout or pond and during the irrigation season, the canals offer an accessible water source, but only from early May to the beginning of October.

“That’s the worst time of the year for fires, especially grass fires,” says Taber fire chief Mike Bos. “We’ve had fires in mid-winter and early spring. Everything is dry, there’s ice on ponds and dugouts. There’s always limitations, but with no water, sometimes there’s not a lot we can do. If we have to stand there and watch a house or a barn burn, that’s very demoralizing.”

Each of the department’s three fire trucks hauls 1,000 gallons of water, but that doesn’t go far when the crew is facing a grass fire or a blazing building. The crews need to be able to bring a truck close to a water source to pump enough water. Generally they need to put a truck within 10 or 20 feet of the water, but debris, rocks, ice even long grass can delay them.

Soon, thanks to funding from DuPont’s Funding Initiative for Rural Emergencies (FIRE), the Taber Fire Department will be able to move water from considerable distances with greater lifts. The department is purchasing a water jet eductor from a U.S. company. The machine, which weighs about 45 lbs. without its hoses, has no moving parts and works on the kinetic energy of water via the venturi effect and does not need to be primed. Water is pumped through a 2.5-inch hose into the eductor and through a nozzle. This creates suction around the nozzle, pulling in water that is discharged with considerable force. According to the company’s website, the five-inch discharge hose can be as much as 250 feet long.

Chief Bos and his crew don’t have their machine yet, but they’re looking forward to training with it to find what it will do and how best to use it. “It can put out up to 670 gallons a minute,” he says. “The big question is how much flow does it lose over a height and distance. We’ll be doing a lot of training on a new way of doing things with the TurboDraft eductor. We’ll still carry some water to any fire, but we’ll probably dedicate one truck to getting water.”

The FIRE program is a new initiative for DuPont Pioneer, started in July this year, aimed at helping out rural volunteer fire departments. The company has had a community investment program for some time, and occasionally supported emergency services through that, now FIRE is dedicated to the emergency services sector. “Many of our customers and our sales people are volunteer firefighters,” says Melani Rich of DuPont Pioneer. “Emergencies where volunteer firefighters are called out impact the lives of farmers, who are our customers.”

Rich says the program has provided a range of equipment, as it isn’t just firefighting equipment that’s needed.

“Some groups asked for ‘jaws of life’ to extricate people trapped in vehicles, one group asked for help buying a trailer to help them get their rescue sled and toboggan to hard-to-reach places, another needed gas-detection equipment. We provided the High River hospital with new wheelchairs after all of theirs were lost in the floods.”

Chief Bos and his volunteers feel the fire eductor will really help their community. “We’ve been pretty fortunate lately,” he says. “We’ve had some field fires, but the Hutterites have really been on the ball and other farmers seem to be getting the message too, to be prepared. If they see things getting dry, have the disker set up and ready to go and have water ready and available if possible. “Awareness and being prepared make a real difference. The first five minutes of a fire are critical,” he said.

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