Clean-agent fire suppression systems

“Responses to Energy Storage Systems” by Lieutenant Paul G. Rogers (Fire Engineering, June 2015) was very interesting. The two photos on page 79 show rooms full of electrical equipment/storage batteries protected by what appears to be a conventional wet-pipe fire sprinkler system (note the pendant head in photo 1). Shouldn’t these rooms be protected by a clean-agent fire suppression system such as Inergen, FM-200, or any of the other Halon replacements?

Oscar Wiltse,
Firefighter/EMT-P
Flowery Branch, Georgia

Paul G. Rogers responds: Tests are being run on the correct suppression systems as I write this. The current International Fire Code does not cover what type of suppression system to use. Some of the energy storage systems (ESS) will not be in an enclosed room, however, and the magnitude of the systems will be very large. Suppression systems, therefore, are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, depending on the battery chemistry of the ESS. Some suppression systems do not have a cooling capability, and that is needed to dissipate the heat and stop thermal runaway in some battery chemistries. As more testing data are revealed, we will be able to answer the question about water in greater detail. In almost any case, the quickest and easiest suppression available to the firefighter is water. In this particular situation regarding ESS, firefighters should also be educated about and aware of the possibility of electrical leakage.

Tribute to small-town volunteer firefighters

This is a tribute to volunteer firefighters in small towns, especially those firefighters with whom I served in a small Montana community for seven years. I came to observe what a long-time commitment to volunteer firefighting entails. Everyone works about two jobs just to get by; if you’re part of the volunteer emergency personnel, you may be working three jobs. The minimum wage is very low. Many people have to commute to work in the nearby city of Missoula.

I became a volunteer when I was 19 and a college freshman. I joined the oldest fire department in Montana. Its motto is “The Desire to Serve, the Courage to Act, and the Ability to Perform.” That sign is everywhere. It’s one of the first things I saw when I came to my first fire meeting amid a sea full of men. I grew to love the men with whom I fought fires. I fought structure fires and wildland fires.

Being a firefighter helped me to grow up. I learned a lot and quickly realized that nothing should be taken for granted. I learned what it means to be on a team, to do all I could to help other crew members even when I felt as if I couldn’t go on. They were just as tired as I was, but we all wanted to be there, so we all worked together to finish whatever job was before us …. We gave up Saturdays to work with the cadets.

I went through a six-week trial period and in time learned the rules, including the “unwritten” rules, such as when you got your pager, you had to put on your full fire bunker gear and self-contained breathing apparatus within a minute. The first couple of times I failed.

It takes a certain person to become a volunteer firefighter. You have to want to help your community. Not everyone wants to volunteer to fight fire, especially when house fires or other emergencies can happen at any time. Being a volunteer makes you feel part of your community and responsible for those around you.

It takes courage to go into an unstable structure that is on fire and look for people and then get out in time with your team. It takes courage to answer your pager when it goes off in the middle of the night and it’s below zero outside or to help with medical calls in the middle of the night. It takes courage to help your fellow crew members when you are worn out and exhausted and haven’t slept in a day and a half.

I was always astonished that my fellow firefighters would spend countless hours with the fire department and still manage to have a family life. Many of them own successful businesses. I have seen them drive their work truck to the fire hall, put on their gear, and hop into an engine and respond to a fire. When back at the hall, they quickly would take off their bunker gear and run back to the projects they were working on before the call. I heard some of them talking about working well into the night to finish their business chores. Many times, I wanted to complain about my college work, but I didn’t because they, too, were working hard every day to support their families and businesses and volunteer as well.

College was difficult for me because of my dyslexia. I worked two part-time jobs and donated plasma to pay my bills and get gas money. I went to the food bank because my bills ate all my money. I was constantly hungry in college. When I would think of whining, I would remember and see what the other department members were going through. Someone’s wife was sick, someone lost his job, and someone was behind in paying the bills. The families in the fire department were feeding someone’s family until he got back on his feet. There were other members with struggles as well. Yet, these volunteers showed up to medical, structure fire, wildland fire, and car wreck calls in between all the crazy stuff going on in their lives.

Firefighter 1 was a grueling couple of months filled with endless drills on the weekends and nonstop training. I had to pass this class to become a full-fledged firefighter. Firefighters gave up their weekends to help crew members pass the drills.

I received a lot of positive feedback and guidance in how to improve in the drills. The rural fire chief was our crew leader, and he was a great help. We would practice some of the drills 11 times before we passed.

The second weekend of Firefighter 1, I had gotten a full set of braces on my teeth. I had wanted straight teeth for a while, and I was finally able to get the braces. I got them in the middle of training. It made Firefighter 1 more of a challenge. I couldn’t eat anything solid for about a week. During training, the wives cooked for us. On all big structural fires, they cooked breakfast at the fire hall; it was a very welcoming thing to have food near a safe location. I also had to stop donating plasma because I was getting weak to work on the calls, and the firefighters were worried about me.

Everyone is different. If you are tall, it can make life easier in Firefighter 1. I am only five feet, five inches. Everything on the trucks is made for men who are six feet tall. So when I was working on these drills, they helped me find ways to make sure I could do it and pass everything. To get the rubbish hook off the truck, I had to stand on a chock to reach it. All of these drills are timed and have to be less than 15 minutes. Each crew member is tested separately, but everyone on the team has to work together to make the time. When I started Firefighter 1, I was the only female in all of the crews; six crews started. By the time I finished the class, only three crews remained, including ours. I was the only female in the history of my town to pass Firefighter 1. Many had started, but none had ever passed second-story drill.

Looking back at what a small town community of volunteers does on a daily basis is amazing to say the least. Here is a group of people who take pride in helping other members of their community. They have a close bond of friendship. They look after their own in the firehouse, their families, and themselves. Some members came to my college graduation, which was an honor for me.

These volunteers never get the “thank you” they deserve. This is my way of saying thank you to them for all the years of hard work and fun we put in together and the true friendships that we share.

Mary Frances M. Clark
Firefighter/EMT
Stevensville, Montana

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