By Gary New
Having been involved in the fire service in one capacity or another for more than 35 years, it seems it is time for some new thinking in regard to the wildland-urban interface and the effects of these massive fires — which are occurring in ever-increasing numbers each year due to drought conditions and other factors. There is structural firefighting and there is wildland firefighting, and their paths are crossing with greater frequency. The two do not interface as well as they should, mostly because the equipment they use is very different.
There are four main tactical approaches to wildland fighting:
- Ground Troops
- Truck Platforms (engines and tenders)
- Air tankers (planes)
The last two suspend operations when the wind speed is high which is when the fire is at its most intense. As one of the most innovative countries on the planet, we can do better.
What I am referring to specifically is some type of all-terrain track-driven platform: a battle tank. With the theaters of war winding down, we must have hundreds if not thousands of these machines sitting in inventories that could be retrofitted for this purpose. Such vehicles could go anywhere, pump fire suppression products in any direction, get out of trouble as quickly as it can get into it.
FIRE CHIEF published an article about a similar idea in Germany in 2008. (See related video below.) The USFS also attempted a similar idea using an A-1 tank platform, mounting a large water tank atop the battle tank chassis and put a nozzle on one end of the tank. But the idea died quickly because of wear on the track pads. This is not surprising as the entire tank needed to turn in order to direct the nozzle.
What's needed is a platform that can maneuver and pump 360°, very much the same as the battle version.The battle version uses heavy gauge steel as armament to protect it from assault, surely if we can send a shuttle into outer space and back we can we can reduce the steel, replace it with a lighter-weight material and maintain the strength and agility of this platform. R&D costs and the logistics of transporting these machines I am told are the reasons manufacturers do not pursue this idea.
My questions are these;
- How much are these very large and destructive fires costing us in lives and property damage?
- What is the cost of healthcare issues; specifically respiratory to people exposed to the thick smoke over large portions of the country?
- Why are we putting all the money in aircraft when they cannot fly when the wind speed is prohibitive and the fire is raging?
- What about when the roads into these fires are blocked with abandoned vehicles?
- With the defense contractors facing large cuts; why can’t they re-purpose some of these platforms creating jobs in the process?
The wildland-urban interface is not going to get smaller; if anything it is going to grow exponentially. We need to invest in new ideas and new equipment that will increase the arsenal of weapons to fight this threat. Certainly, it does not make sense for every agency to have one of these. My thoughts are these could be built and staged in strike teams in strategic parts of the country and deployed by truck. We would then need to discuss what agency these units would fall under.
Gary New grew up in the mountains west of Denver, where he began his fire service and continued it in a suburb of Denver until his retirement. He is a Master Electrician in Colorado and Wyoming and has a background in general construction, heavy equipment, facilities management, firefighting/EMS, and fire investigations.