Combating Brush Fires with Submersible Pumps and Alternators
Los Angeles County Procedure shows promise for protecting mountain residences
ONE of the major loss factors at the Bel Air brush fire in the Santa Monica Mountains during 1961 was the lack of water due to demand and breakdown in certain municipal water supply facilities. In reviewing the disaster, some fire officers believed that many homes could have been saved if fire equipment had been able to draft from the many swimming pools in the area. However, since the pools usually were located in backyards, in almost every case they were inaccessible to heavy fire equipment’s drafting capabilities.
After the disaster, the board of supervisors ordered Los Angeles County Fire Chief Keith E. Klinger to investigate the possibility of developing a small pump for use in drafting from pools at fires. An electric submersible pump was one idea advanced as a solution.
Constant-speed alternator needed
“Our problem was to provide power from a pumper or other apparatus,” explained Battalion Chief Frank Hamp, Los Angeles County research officer. “We found a pump which was suitable, but it required 115 volts alternating current at 60 cycles to operate.
“Alternators on fire apparatus provide current which varies when pump governors raise or lower engine speed. We needed an alternator which ran at a constant speed to provide 60-cycle current.”
Chief Hamp enlisted the help of Prosser Industries, Inc., Anaheim, and after two years came up with a suitable alternator. It uses a series of automatically variable-speed pulleys which keep the speed constant. First installation was made on Patrol 82 stationed in the La Canada district.
Simple pumping procedures
A 114-inch line is taken from the rig along with the 115-volt power cable. The pool pump is placed on end and power turned on. Pumping is done at 120 gpm. The pump, of course, can be supplied from available house current outlets if the power supply is on.
The line can also be used to fill one one of the County’s portable sumps (a pumper can draft and fill its tank from the sump) or the line fed into the patrol’s own pump and discharged at the needed pressure.
“We are in the process of installing 16 alternators on patrol equipment and one on a triple at this time,” Chief Hamp said. “We are using the patrols because they are more mobile and can get in closer to pool areas.” The chief reported that Patrol 82 successfully used the pump during the recent Verdugo Hills fire in the Glendale-Burbank-Eagle Rock area.
Power available for other uses
Development of the alternator as a source of power for this pump also solved another problem, that of providing power for smoke ejectors which require 115 volts and also floodlights. Previously the department used gasdriven generators, but wanted another source of power. At a recent church fire, Patrol 82’s alternator provided power for two smoke ejectors and three 500-watt floodlights.
—all Los Angeles County F. D. photos by J. Ohanesian