Let's say you have a new neighbor who has never lived in fire country. They start burning a small slash pile on a hot dry day, and the fire begins to spread. They call you in a panic as the fire starts creeping toward your property.
What are you going to do? Are you going to call it in, hop in your car, and make a quick exit--hoping your home and property will be there when you return? It will likely be hours (at best) before help arrives when resources are stretched thin. Or are you going to try and put it out before it turns into something big?
There are many options for putting out a small spot fire. One option is hand tools to throw dirt on the fire or quickly cut a fire line around the affected area while waiting for help to arrive. Even better would be dozer or large tractor to cut a larger fire line more quickly.
But sometimes, your best option is some water. A high volume of water in the right place for even a short time can do wonders on a small spot fire. And that's how our wildfire mobile attack unit was born.
Let me start by saying that I'm in no way advocating that an amateur single-handedly try to attack a large wildfire. That's crazy! This is referring to small-scale scenarios such as the above where a fire has just started, there's no danger of getting trapped or overtaken by the small fire, and a bit of effort in the right place at the right time could prevent it from turning into a full-blown wildfire. Anytime you deal with fire, you must be certain that you always have a solid escape plan and that you bail out before you need to use it.
My goal was to try and use the same type and size of fitting across the whole system for a particular function. For instance, anything on the output side of the pump (pump outlet, fire hoses, tees, nozzles, etc) should all have the same fitting so they can interconnect. Anything that interfaces with the inlet side of the pump (suction hoses, tank outlet, etc) should have the same type and size of fitting.
Why the big fuss about standardizing fittings? When you are under stress and have a time crunch, you don't need to be fiddling with finding the right fittings or adapters. You need to be able to grab stuff and connect it. Also, you never know what unusual configuration you'll need, and if everything is as standardized as possible, you may have more options.
I started with a 350 gallon on the back of our 3/4 ton pickup. With our HD springs, it's possible we could have handled a larger tank, but this 2,800 pound load was as heavy as I wanted to go, especially in case I needed to maneuver the truck through terrain. And you want to avoid driving around with a partially empty tank if possible, as the water can surge when you try to stop quickly and cause you to lose control.
On this tank, I threaded a quick disconnect male cam-lock fitting. With this fitting, I can quickly connect the outlet of my tank to the inlet of my fire pump with the short suction hose. In addition, as mentioned above, I can quickly reconfigure my system to pump from a creek and use the one adapter to pump water into my tank. When pumping this way, you can fill the tank up very quickly!
Even though I've used a Honda WH15 pump for years with great success, I opted the for NorthStar 2" High Pressure Pump. This little pump has a quality Honda engine, but the pump offers a lot more performance, with around 90 GPM at over 90 PSI!
While the pump did have a part that leaked a bit, Northern Tool sent me a replacement right away for free. Years later, I have noticed a leak develop between the pump and the engine, so I may have to replace the gasket there, but all in all I'm very happy with it. And I have friends with this same pump who use it a lot and have had good success.
For hoses, I could have purchased them brand new online from numerous retailers, but I happened upon a Craigslist ad for a pallet of old fire hoses. Some of them were pretty worn out, but I ended up with at least 1,000' of quality 1.5" fire hose out of the deal and if I recall correctly I only paid a couple hundred dollars!
I like 50' long 1.5" fire hoses because they are a manageable size, tough, can move a lot of water, and because they are so common, it's fairly easy to find fittings or adapters. On these hoses, I've mounted quarter-turn quick-connect fittings that will interface with each other, the pump, and nozzles.
Foaming or wetting agents are additives you can put in your tank of water to make them even more effective. This is really useful anytime, but especially when you have a limited amount of water. I have a good supply of a foaming agent used by some fire departments (FireAde) and know that a proper ratio for mine is 1 gal of foam liquid to one 350 gal tank of water.
When used at this concentration with a normal nozzle, it won't necessarily create a layer of thick foam (that would require a foaming nozzle and setup), but it makes the water much more effective and can even make items you spray more fire-resistant for a while. I don't know about you, but I need all the help I can get!
Don't forget to throw in some hand tools like shovels, axes, pulaskis, etc. These are invaluable for making a fire line. As awesome as water is, it often needs to be complimented with a fire line of some sort, down to mineral earth that can't burn or smolder.
Be sure to check out our podcast episode on dealing with WildFires on the homestead.
And here are some other useful resources:
- Jack Cohen Videos (foremost expert in wildland fire structure protection)
- Wildfire! Preventing Home Ignitions – A really good explanation for how homes burn down and what you can do to prevent it
- Protecting Your Home From Wildfire – Jack visits a number of homes and points out the issues that could cause them to burn down during a wildfire.
- Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire – Some of the topics covered in the above but also includes more modern tests he’s conducted to prove how wildfires burn homes down