Faster Roll The Farm Fire Fighters
TWELVE minutes in the 228-square mile Kittitas County, Washington, Rural Fire District No. 2 one day last summer showed that city firemen no longer can claim a monopoly on speed. Rural firemen move swiftly too—especially in Washington.
At 4:15 in the afternoon a call came from the extreme northern end of the district, about 7 miles from the district headquarters at Ellensburg. One truck headed north. Five minutes later, at 4:20, another call came from a farm about the same distance south of town. A second truck sped south. Seven minutes later a third call came from still another part of the district.
The southbound truck was rerouted to the third alarm and the district’s third truck took to the road to the southern fire. Fast trucks, equipped to handle any kind of a fire, and constantly in touch with home base through two-way radio, paid off in those 12 minutes. Not one of the fires had a chance, yet every one could have done thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Those same busy 12 minutes also revealed how swiftly Washington’s farm fire fighters have moved in the direction of providing equipment and skill to handle all kinds of fires. One fire was on a brushy hillside, threatening grain fields and grazing land; another started from a leaking gasoline line in a hay stacker motor; while the third was in a farm building. Rural fire units now’ are ready for any kind of a fire.
Washington’s 100 rural fire units own $1,000,000 worth of mobile equipment, ranging from small tanks on trailers to big trucks of the very latest design. All of this has come since 1942, when the state, under the leadership of the state fire marshall, opened an intensive drive to prevent destructive fires in the grain fields. Then there were but two farm districts—with no equipment.
“During the war, when the emphasis was on saving grain, the units got along with improvised tank trucks,” explains Leonard L. Burgunder. deputy state fire marshal, who has directed the drive. “Since the war those home-made rigs have gone into the discard and districts now are getting commercially made outfits designed for their specific needs and to work on structural as Well as field fires.”
In their pioneering in rural mobile equipment, Washington districts found that getting speed in farm fire fighting is considerably more than just “buying a shiny new fire truck.”
“No city department can get by with one type of equipment,” says Burgunder. “One city may need a different type of truck from another. It’s the same way in rural districts. Each has its peculiarities in terrain, roads, mileage distances, and types of fires likely to predominate. All these factors are being considered by the farmer-commissioners in getting new equipment.”
One of the oldest districts learned that lesson the hard way. In a wave of enthusiasm it bought a 4-ton truck with 10-speed transmission, a long wheel base, and carrying 1,000 gallons of water. Theirs was an impressive machine but the district soon found that a surprising number of calls were to field fires necessitating driving across rough pastures—certainly no place for that truck.
Following that experience, the district quickly added a 11/2 ton truck carrying only 300 gallons of water. In addition to its ability to roll over rough land, this truck can hit 60 to 70 miles an hour on good roads, reaching a fire 10 or more minutes ahead of the larger truck.
“Strategy of our districts, in adding new equipment, will be to develop an alarm system similar to those in big city departments,” Burgunder explains. “There will be first, second, and even third alarms. First alarm will bring a light pickup within a few minutes. A larger truck carrying more water will come on the second alarm, to be followed if necessary by a third alarm bringing a 1,500 gallon rig.”
Pointing in that direction, Spokane County District No. 3, Cheney, will have 10 pieces of mobile equipment in operation this year, ranging from a swift pickup with only 100 gallons of water to a big truck carrying 1,500 gallons and a pump capable of shooting that water out at a nozzle pressure of 600 pounds. The big unit also has all the ladders and other equipment necessary on structural and grain elevator fires.
More districts, Burgunder reports, are going in for the light pickups carrying 100 gallons of water. Tlieir job will be to get there first and hold the fire in check while a larger unit is on the way.
Appearance of so much speedy mobile equipment has resulted in a high degree of inter-district cooperation. “Fires have brought together trucks from four or five different districts,” Burgunder relates. “They certainly help one another,”
Another innovation, which has smoothed out the rough spots in the rural fire units, is the pre-harvest fire defense meeting. Farmers gather for a complete review of their individual responsibilities. All of the district mobile equipment is on display and farmers are given a short course in its use and operation.
New ideas, suggestions, and regulations make their appearance at these gatherings. Here are some of the new pointers from the July, 1947, pre-harvest meeting in the Clyde District of Walla Walla County:
First, shovels are to hang from the side of the combines, where they can be quickly and easily reached from the ground. When a man needs a shovel in a hurry he doesn’t want to have to climb on top a combine for it.
Second, the protective screens on tractor and truck exhausts are to be sleeves at least a foot long. Just fastening a piece of screen over the end of the pipe isn’t enough. Only a long sleeve will withstand the exhaust heat during the harvest period.
Third, combines are to carry jacks and blocks so the tractor can be unhooked speedily on fire call.
Fourth, at night or when the harvest crew is on fire call, the combine is to be pulled into a plowed area.
When the meeting adjourned every farmer knew exactly what to do. Nothing was left to chance. In case of fire in the Clyde District, here’s what will happen!
The report comes to the oil company plant where the truck is stationed. The farmer making the report gives the exact location of the fire, its type, wind conditions, and the road to take to get there the quickest. The farm wives take this complete report ana spread i_____ over the party lines.
Farmers within 2 miles of the farm bring tractors and harvest crews. Those 2 to 4 miles bring trucks and crews. While the district truck and the neighbors are coming the farmer with the fire rounds up plows, disks, and hitches. There’s little danger of having half a dozen tractors and not a single plow or disk, as happened on one grain fire not so many years ago.
Washington’s all-out efforts in rural fire fighting, ranging from spectacular items such as a $14,000 truck just acquired by one district down to a seemingly minor point involving the location of a shovel on a combine, have paid off handsomely. Prior to 1942, the state seldom got by without seeing a million dollars worth of grain go up in smoke. Other farm fire losses were high too. Now the toll isn’t a tenth that much.
A new and mighty welcome dividend came last year. It was a 10 per cent reduction in the premium on grain insurance. In total dollars that isn’t much compared to the value of the grain saved but it reveals how far Washington has come in fire defense since the dark days before 1942, when most grain farmers themselves accepted the big fires as inevitable and insurance companies were pulling out of some districts because they were having to pay such huge claims