Scientists develop retardant gel with “persistent retention”qualities

It could be used to pretreat areas at high risk of fire ignitions to make them fire resistant

long term gel fire resistant
Overhead time-course images of 3 m × 3 m unmowed (standing) grass plots that were untreated or treated with different coverage levels, dried, weathered, and allowed to dry again over time in the environment prior to burning. The normalized area burned over time demonstrates that CL2 (coverage level 2, or 2 gallons per 100 square feet) is sufficient to preclude spreading of the fire. Air tankers use the same unit of measurement, coverage level, to specify how much retardant will be dropped. Figure from the research.

(This article first appeared on Wildfire Today.)

A group of scientists and engineers have developed a new fire retarding chemical, actually a gel in this case, that they say can be effective for months after being applied to vegetation.

The millions of gallons of red fire retardant that air tankers drop every year is usually made from ammonium phosphate or its derivatives. It has  been called “long term fire retardant” because even after it dries, the chemical can interfere with the combustion process and may still retard the spread of  a vegetation fire to a limited degree. However research and experience in the field has shown some formulations can be toxic to fish.

Gels have been used by firefighters for several decades on structure fires occasionally on vegetation fires. The products can be more effective than plain water due to their ability to stick to a vertical surface or vegetation. Water can remain in the gel for an hour or more depending on the ambient temperature, wind, and humidity. GelTech Solutions recently received a contract from the Oregon Department of Forestry to supply a blue-colored version of FireIce HVB-Fx gel to be used in air tankers. The company says the product passed the U.S. Forest Service’s newly revised, more challenging requirements for wildland fire chemicals. But the safety data sheet for the product says, “Titanium dioxide [a component of the product] has been classified by IARC as a possible carcinogen to humans (Group 2B) through inhalation of particulate dust.” The safety data sheet goes on to say, “This classification is based on inadequate evidence for carcinogenicity in humans, but sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals (rats). It should be noted that recent studies have demonstrated that the rat may be particularly sensitive to high levels of toxicity dusts such as titanium dioxide. Epidemiology studies do not suggest an increased risk of cancer in humans from occupational exposure to titanium dioxide. The conclusions of several epidemiology studies on more than 20,000 TiO2 industry workers in Europe and the USA did not suggest a carcinogenic effect of TiO2 dust on the human lung.”

This is not the first time blue gel has been used in air tankers. The photo below was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006.

blue gel air tanker fire retardant
A single engine air tanker drops blue gel on a fire near Shep’s Canyon in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 15, 2006. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The scientists who developed the new fire retarding gel that they claim has “persistent retention”qualities said their formulation is environmentally benign, nontoxic, and will “biodegrade at desired timescales.” After application, it will retain its ability to prevent fires throughout the peak fire season, even after weathering that would sweep away conventional fire retardants. The cellulose-based gel-like fluid stays on target vegetation through wind, rain and other environmental exposure, they said.

“This has the potential to make wildland firefighting much more proactive, rather than reactive,” said Eric Appel, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

Treating wildfire prone areas prophylactically could provide a highly targeted approach to wildfire prevention, but, until now, long-lasting materials have not been available.

The researchers have worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) to test the retardant materials on grass and chamise — two vegetation types where fire frequently starts. They found the treatment provides complete fire protection even after half an inch of rainfall. Under the same conditions, a typical commercial retardant formulation provides little or no fire protection. The researchers are now working with the California Department of Transportation and CAL FIRE to test the material on high-risk roadside areas that are the origin of dozens of wildfires every year.

“We don’t have a tool that’s comparable to this,” said Alan Peters, a CAL FIRE division chief in San Luis Obispo who monitored some of the test burns. “It has the potential to definitely reduce the number of fires.”

The Stanford-developed treatment contains only nontoxic materials widely used in food, drug, cosmetic and agricultural products, according to the developers. The unique properties of these gel-like retardant fluids allow them to be applied using standard agricultural spraying equipment or from aircraft. It washes away slowly, providing the ability to protect treated areas against fire for months as the materials slowly degrade.

Link to the research paper, “Wildfire prevention through prophylactic treatment of high-risk landscapes using viscoelastic retardant fluids”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tim, Carl, and Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Firefighting at Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
Screen grab from LAFD video.

Airport firefighting is a very specialized niche —  there are not many similarities in what they do compared to most other firefighters. For example, one of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s rigs at the city’s airport can apply by the push of a button on the dash, water, foam, dry chemical, or Halotron (a clean agent). That truck also has a penetrator device which can pierce the fuselage of an aircraft in order to apply one of the four suppressing agents in the interior of the aircraft.

Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue
A penetrating nozzle on a Los Angeles Fire Department airport rescue truck. Screen grab from LAFD video.

Much more information is in the video below about the Los Angeles Fire Department Airport Rescue Firefighting organization.

John Buehler named Aviation Chief for National Park Service

John Buehler
John Buehler. NPS photo by C. Boehle

John Buehler has been named as the new branch chief for the National Park Service Aviation Program, succeeding Margaret “Meg” Gallagher, who is retiring in January 2019 after spending about nine months in the position.

Mr. Buehler has served in a variety of jobs in his professional career:

  • U.S. Army (beginning in 1994), tank platoon leader, headquarters company executive officer, a graduate of the Aviation Officer Advanced Course
  • General Electric, Six Sigma program
  • General Accountability Office, auditor
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission, special agent
  • Bureau of Land Management, internal affairs special agent (his present job).

Mr. Buehler is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, with a degree in civil engineering, math, and law. He received a Master of Business Administration from Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management where he completed a dual concentration in finance and operations.

Mr. Buehler is a private pilot and continues to serve in the Army Reserves. He was activated as the Department of Defense Liaison to the National Interagency Fire Center in 2014, 2015, and 2017.

He will begin his new position January 6, 2019.

Kristin Swoboda accepts position in NPS Aviation Branch

Kristin Swoboda
Kristin Swoboda. NPS photo by Tina Boehle.

Kristin Swoboda has been named as the new fleet, pilot, and unmanned aircraft (UAS) specialist for the National Park Service. She will have oversight over the agency’s government owned and operated aircraft.

The last NPS person in the position was Jim Traub who retired in 2014. Christina Boehle, a spokesperson for the NPS, said that from 2014 to 2018 the duties were performed by a contractor.

The National Park Service Aviation Branch has been led by Chief Meg Gallagher since April of this year. Before that Ms. Gallagher was an Aviation Management Specialist responsible for the NPS’ helicopter operations. That position, a GS-12/13, is being advertised now.

Ms. Swoboda just transferred to the National Park Service after working for the Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) in Boise, Idaho as their regional UAS manager. During her time with the bureau, she initiated their involvement with Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Kristin was instrumental in assisting the development of a department-level UAS policy for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and was part of the team of DOI subject matter experts who worked with NASA to evaluate and select potential new unmanned aircraft. She completed her formal education at the University of Idaho where she graduated with a degree in Forest Resources Ecosystems Management and a minor in Wildfire Management.

She began her federal career with the US Forest Service working in a variety of positions in wildland fire operations, prescribed fire, aviation, engine crews, as well as on an interagency hotshot crew.

In the past few years, her interest in unmanned aircraft carried over into the creation of a personal commercial UAS business focused mainly on precision agriculture applications. This has aided in increasing her breadth of knowledge in unmanned operations, camera/sensor deployment, and the creation of multiple types of data products.

Kristin also holds a private pilot’s license and owns a Beechcraft Sierra B24R low-wing monoplane. She has experience in flying various types of aircraft including an Atec Faeta, Piper Archer, Piper Warrior, Cirrus SR22, Columbia 400 and Cessna Taildraggers. Fostering her love of flying has accelerated her passion to expand her aviation knowledge, and to develop this enthusiasm in others.

Jim Traub National Park Service
Jim Traub (right) at AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI in 2009. He retired July 30, 2014.

Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California

(Above: The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker)

(This article first appeared on WildfireToday.com)

These photos of the Holy Fire in Orange County, California were taken August 6.

Holy Fire California HC-130H
An HC-130H at the Holy Fire, August 6, 2018. It is either Tanker 116 or 118. ABC7 image.
Holy Fire Orange County California
A lead plane over the Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.
Holy Fire Orange County California
The Holy Fire as seen from the 747 Supertanker August 6, 2018. Credit: Hiroshi Ando, Drop System Operator, Global SuperTanker.

Continue reading “Photos from the Holy Fire in Orange County, California”

Plumas Hotshots assist with plane crash

Above: California Highway Patrol photo

From the U.S. Forest Service in California:

“Following a dispatch from the Plumas County Sheriff, the Plumas National Forest Hotshots and Plumas County Search & Rescue responded to a single engine plane incident in Indian Creek near Indian Falls, early this [Friday] morning [May 18]. Thankfully, the plane’s occupants suffered only minor injuries. The skilled firefighters, ensuring there was no wildland fire threat, provided initial patient care, directed the ambulance to the scene and then transferred care to the ambulance staff. The California Highway Patrol provided traffic control on CA Hwy 89. We’re grateful to have our first responders when we need them! A big thanks to all of you!”

Meg Gallagher named branch chief for NPS aviation

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher
Meg Gallagher. Photo by Tina Boehle.

By Tina Boehle

Margaret “Meg” Gallagher has been named as the new branch chief for the National Park Service (NPS) Aviation Program, succeeding Jon Rollens, who retired at the end of 2017. Meg is currently the acting aviation branch chief, having previously served as the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program.

Meg began her career in the federal government as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) volunteer for Olympic National Park as a backcountry ranger. Over the next five years, she worked in wildland fire management for the U.S. Forest Service, NPS, and Bureau of Land Management as a seasonal wildland firefighter on hotshot crews, in fire dispatch, fire prevention, and as a helitack crewmember.

In 1992, two years after completing the Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, she moved to the Toiyabe National Forest as the assistant helicopter manager in Las Vegas, NV. In 1995, she became the helitack program manager of the Bridger-Teton/Grand Teton interagency rappel/shorthaul program in Jackson, WY. The following year, Meg spent a season on the “Ice,” as a helicopter specialist for Antarctica Support Associates at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

In 1998, as a warranted contracting officer, she became the aviation resource specialist for the Department of the Interior Office of Aircraft Services (OAS), then five years later stepped into the role of aviation training specialist for the thirty-seven states in the OAS’s Eastern Region. In 2009, Meg was hired by the NPS as an aviation management specialist. Among her diverse duties, she filled the role of regional aviation manager for NPS’s three eastern regions.

Most recently, Meg became the national helicopter specialist for the NPS Aviation Program in 2014. For the past four years in Boise, ID, she has built national operational plans for NPS’s high-risk programs with the experts in the regions and parks, as well as kept the Service up-to-date on quickly changing policy that shapes the Service’s aviation operations.

NPS Division of Fire and Aviation Chief, Bill Kaage stated, “With Meg’s understanding of the many aspects of aviation within the National Park Service, her focus on policy and safety, as well as her experience at local, regional, national, and departmental levels, I have great confidence that the NPS Aviation Program will continue to excel as it moves forward.”

Meg stated, “I look forward to leading the National Park Service’s Aviation Program into the future with evolving technology, while building on our current excellent safety record. I also look forward to filling vacancies so we can provide the best customer service to all National Park Service employees who use aviation to meet the mission.”

Meg and her partner reside near Boise. When not working, she enjoys travelling, riding her motorcycle, snowshoeing, and enjoying fine Idaho vintages.

She will begin her new position on April 15, 2018.

Nominations being accepted for 2018 Aerial Firefighting Award

Aerial Firefighting Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2018 Aerial Firefighting Award, which recognises  a significant contribution by an individual or organization to aerial firefighting.

The Award was inaugurated in honor of the late Walt Darran and is previously known as the “Walt Darran Award”. Walt was a pioneer and advocate for advances in aerial firefighting. Being a highly experienced S2-T air tanker pilot and former highly decorated US Navy aviator from California, USA, Walt was a constant and passionate advocate for safety and improvement in the international aerial firefighting.

You can complete a nomination form at www.aerial-firefighting-award.com/

The closing date for nominations is March 2, 2018. The winner will be announced March 13 at the Aerial Firefighting North America 2018 conference in Sacramento CA, USA.

Previous winners:

  • 2014: George Petterson, USA
  • 2015: Philippe Bodino, France
  • 2016: Jim Cook, USA
  • 2017: Jacques Bonneval, France