Tools of the Trade: Wildfire Season, Navigating the Terrain

March 31, 2021


Tools of the Trade wildfire

Blog By: FireRein Team

With files from Wikipedia and IFSTA Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations, 6th Edition

Chasing Smoke

Fire is an elemental force of nature. In the confined space typical of a single-family dwelling, it can be awe-inspiring in its destructive power. Imagine the immensity of the power of a fire unleashed in the wild without constraint, and you’ll have some idea of the magnitude of destruction that brush companies experience in wildland fire suppression.

Wildland fires can be caused by lightning strikes, autoignition, volcanic activity, sparks from rock slides, arson, discarded smoking materials, campfires, sparks or other ignition sources from machinery, and electrical shorts in power lines and fences(1). As the wildland/urban interface (the area where urban civilization encroaches on undeveloped land) pushes deeper into dense forest, the danger to human habitation posed by intense fire is magnified. We need only reference the annual California wildfires and the devastation of Fort MacMurray to judge the personal impact and financial damages suffered by those populations.

The ferocity of a wildland fire may vary, depending on fuel, weather, and topography. Burning can be rapid, or it can continuously smoulder slowly in moist, decaying plant matter and root systems. Such is the case in a ground fire scenario. A surface fire spreads through the low-lying shrubbery and vegetation above ground, and a crown fire is when the upper branches and leaves or needles of the trees combust. When combating a blaze, wildland firefighters attack the roots and stir up the dirt with pressurized water. They cut down trees with chainsaws to make fire breaks, and dig trenches with the Pulaski axe.

To supply water to ground crews, the pumper truck flows pressurized water through a gated wye splitter. Large diameter hoses from the pumper are condensed down to smaller handline hoses to cover more ground. The pumper can refill from a dump tank or a nearby natural water source. When fire crews have advanced beyond the length of hose available on the pumper, they employ a portable pump to draft water from natural sources, including lakes, rivers, ponds, and swamps.

The hose used in wildland firefighting is different than what is normally used in a structural or vehicle fire. Forestry hose is typically 1.5” in diameter, with a white, braided polyester covering. The ends of the hose are twist-on quick connect fittings to allow for rapid attachment or removal of hose lengths. A crimping device, called a strangler, is employed to seal off the water flow to one end of the hose so that a nozzle, splitter, or new hose line may be attached. In this way, the portable pump can remain in operation and not have to be shut off which could cause malfunction or loss of prime.

When working a wildland fire, brush crews wear coveralls, boots, safety glasses, leather gloves, a cowl, and a hard hat. The usual bunker turnout gear is too heavy, and wearing it in a wildland fire can lead to heat exhaustion. Firefighters need to be light on their feet in case they have to drop everything and run quickly if the wind causes the fire to spread back toward them.

One of the most dangerous jobs in wildland firefighting is Smokejumping. Smokejumpers parachute from out of airplanes and helicopters to forward areas inaccessible by ground or water. Their equipment is dropped to them, and they’re expected to be self-sufficient for up to 48 hours. Once in the deep woods, they fight the fire until they can be safely extracted.

All wildland firefighters have to deal with unexpected dangers, including wildlife, natural obstacles, drug labs and grow-ops, belligerent residents, and transients. The highly strenuous nature of the job confers a much greater likelihood of suffering from dehydration, exhaustion, and heat stroke from overexposure to heat. It’s very common for ground crews to suffer smoke inhalation, and the risk of long-term lung damage leading to asthma and COPD is frequent. A hazard that was once kept quiet, but is now being talked about more openly, is the exposure to toxic fire foams and retardants.

Since the late 1940s, airplanes and helicopters have been used to drop water and fire retardant onto wildland fires. Helicopters typically carry dump buckets or deploy water and retardant from onboard tanks. Aerial drop tanker planes are able to carry from 2000 L to 70,000 L of water or fire retardant. Chemical fire retardant is typically added to water because the heat of the fire evaporates the water before it hits the ground. Commonly used foams and retardants are highly toxic to plant, animal, and human life(2). According to an article published by the University of Guelph(3):

They found wide variations in the toxicity of the substances. For example, the tests conducted on both water fleas in shallow water bodies and on rainbow trout found the Eco-Gel™ was unlikely to cause any harm, while the [competing brand] would likely be highly toxic to both species.

“One of the biggest surprises in this study was simply the wide variation in effects,” said Prosser. “We had expected that since these water additives have similar components, there would not be such variation. But we saw differences in thousand-fold orders of magnitude.”

Aquatic Hazard Assessment with Daphnia magna

*entries in red fail standard guidelines for environmental impact

fad0ff 4b3c1e93686d4ffba21af9de5b0033f7 mv2 • FireRein EcoGel

Independent studies, like the one from the University of Guelph cited above, have determined that almost all of the fire foams commonly used over the last 50 years contain PFAS and PFOS, the “forever chemicals” that never go away once absorbed by ground and surface water. Humans and animals consume the water; the chemicals are absorbed by our bodies and never leave. It is believed that 97% of the population of North America have absorbed PFAS in their blood(4).

Eco-Gel™ shortens knock down times in comparison to existing foams and water additives. It has lower overall water usage, is less expensive to clean-up, and its competitive prices make it both the least expensive and most effective product to use. Perhaps, more important is that Eco-Gel™ is the only 100% bio-based fire suppression water additive available in the market; it is devoid of the toxicity of most of the competition.

Eco-Gel™ works with commonly-used firefighting equipment, unlike competitive gels. Also, unlike many of the competitive gels and foams, water quality is not an issue. It is a true drop-in solution for wildland fire operations. A practical benefit is that Eco-Gel™ clings to and coats vertical and horizontal surfaces, acting as a retardant and avoiding the re-ignition or spread of fires.

This retardant characteristic is important for the protection of assets from wildland fires and halting the expansion of such fires. Fires will not start or propagate once land, vegetation, and structures are coated. Once the threat has subsided, the Hydrogel coating is easily rinsed away with water. The combination of performance, enhanced economics, environmental advantages, equipment flexibility, and inherent retardant characteristics, positions Eco-Gel™ as the product of choice under ever-tightening environmental regulations.

Based on both performance and environmental impact criteria, FireRein Eco-Gel™ is a superior product to existing foams and gels on the market. These performance and environmental benefits apply to both urban and wildland fire suppression. Eco-Gel™ is the preferable suppression solution, cultivated for firefighting applications across the industry.

FireRein salutes the wildland firefighters who serve our remote communities and protect our environment. We’re proud to join our first responder colleagues who continue to depend on their “Tool of the Trade” every day.


1) Stowell, Frederick M., and Lynne Murnane, Essentials of Fire Fighting and Fire Department Operations, 6th Edition (Upper Saddle River: Brady Publishing, 2013,) p. 1049.