Fire Department seeks a way to soup up water
December 19, 2004
BY FRAN SPIELMAN Staff Reporter
The fire that raged for more than five hours Dec. 6 at the LaSalle Bank building generated a heat so intense, firefighters poured up to 4,000 gallons of water a minute, much of it turning to vapor before it could do any good.
Firefighters and 500 building employees who were evacuated talked about temperatures that rose so high, carpeting literally melted beneath their feet.
Now the Chicago Fire Department is exploring the possibility of purchasing a chemical additive that could be mixed with water to improve the water's ability to extinguish major fires.
Firefighters already use similar chemicals to put out car and tire fires in junkyards. They also use foam to douse flames during plane crashes and power station fires.
But no such chemical additive has ever been used on a fire like the one that destroyed all of one floor and part of another at the LaSalle Bank building, 135 S. LaSalle.
'Would stop the flames faster'
"They were putting water on it -- at one point, as much as 4,000 gallons per minute. But the heat of the fire was so intense, it evaporated the water before it had a chance to do any good. It turned into steam before it could work on the fire," said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
"If you could use an additive to prevent the water from vaporizing as rapidly, it would take less water to stop the flames or, with the same amount of water, it would stop the flames faster."
Sources said the search for a chemical additive was the second major recommendation to emerge from a series of post-mortems of the LaSalle Bank fire conducted by Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter.
Jim McNally, president of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, said he has seen chemicals do "amazing things" during field tests. One product, known as "Cold Fire," can be sprayed on "white phosphorous or magnesium -- things that burn intensely hot," he said.
Another product on the market is FireAde 2000, a reddish liquid that can be either mixed with the water inside fire engines or blended with water from a hydrant.
Ron Thames, who owns Fire Service Plus and sells the product, said FireAde makes water more efficient by eliminating "surface tension.'' When even a tiny amount of FireAde is mixed in, the water becomes smoother and capable of deeper penetration, instead of balling up when it strikes a surface.
As a result, departments do not have to use as much water during fires, Thames said. A large department might use 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of FireAde a year, with each gallon costing $25.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that the Fire Department was exploring the possibility of purchasing disposable breathing devices for victims to prevent a repeat of what happened at the LaSalle Bank building fire -- when firefighters offered their own air masks to victims and ended up suffering from smoke inhalation themselves.
Two dozen firefighters were injured at the LaSalle Bank building, some of them caused by "buddy breathing." It was Chicago's second major high-rise fire in 14 months.
The fire raged for more than five hours, in part because firefighters tried to contain it while attacking it from only one of the building's two stairways -- a strategy known as "defending in place" -- until they could be certain all 500 employees in the building at the time had been evacuated safely.
Determined to improve
The Fire Department has been praised for a revamped high-rise firefighting strategy that prevented fatalities and appeared to have eliminated mistakes that contributed to the six deaths in the Oct. 17, 2003, fire at 69 W. Washington. But Trotter's post-mortems underscore a determination to improve on that performance.
Langford said the chemical additive would work much like the foam units used at power station fires. When the hose comes off the fire truck, a suction adapter is used to pull the chemical into the hose and mix it in with the water before it's applied to the fire.
"We're always looking to see what we can do to improve the efficiency of our firefighting," he said. "This is one of the things we're looking at and talking to companies about. We're saying, 'Can this work?' They might say, 'No, it can't.' But we're asking."
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12-20-2004, 10:15 AM #1
Chicago Fire Department seeks a way to soup up waterIf my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!
12-20-2004, 10:35 AM #2
We just purchased about 100 gallons of FireAde 2000. While water is still the cheapest extinguishing agent available, FireAde 2000 does have its place.
Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 12-20-2004 at 10:38 AM."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
12-20-2004, 01:36 PM #3
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- Aug 2004
How is Fire Ade 2000 different than class A foam?
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