Maryland Firefighters Step Out of Box for Protection

Members of Jefferson Volunteer Fire Company in Maryland can brag that they have something no other fire organization in the nation has, a mist sprinkler system.

They hit pay dirt by asking a resident in their rural community to give them an opinion as they prepared to renovate their station. Former fire chief Bill Phelps said picking up the phone that day wound up saving the company thousands of dollars.

The man they turned to was Sonny Scarff, fire protection director for Marriott, who gave them another choice, Hi-Fog water mist systems.

After seeing a demonstration, the fire company decided to step out of the box. But not only was the cutting edge technology effective, it was also cheaper. "We were given an estimate of $156,000 for a regular sprinkler system and that wasn't including the price of a 35,000 gallon underground tank," Phelps said.

The cost of Hi-Fog was $115,000, and included a fire alarm system. Instead of losing a large part of their parking lot for an underground tank, they simply moved things around in a mechanical room behind the engine bay. It took just more than two weeks to install.

The system consists of several nitrogen tanks equipped with gauges and pipes that are connected to six tanks each holding about 12 gallons of water. Since the system stays pressurized, no electricity is needed for it to work, Mr. Scarff said.

A 750-gallon water tank is at the ready, to refill the pressurized tanks if need be. The high pressure produces a mist with a drop size of 50-120 micrometers (um), according to company reports.

Hi-Fog documents describe the system as "the combination of the right drop size distribution and high velocity ensures efficient penetration and the rapid cooling of the fire plume and adjacent gases."

Many Jefferson fire and rescue personnel are well-versed with the system they selected and are eager to share that knowledge. Susan Corun, the treasurer, said local fire marshals were skeptical at first. But, eventually came around.

Mr. Scarff said he was sold on the mist technology when he saw it a few years ago in a foreign country. Since then, he?s had it installed in a number of Marriott hotels around the world, and is currently involved in its placement in English castles.

Developed by a Finland-based company, Marioff Corporation, the system was first placed on cruise ships. Now, Hi-Fog has been installed in numerous historic buildings around the world including an opera house in Milan, several buildings in Venice, wooden hotels in Norway, James Madison's House in Virginia and the Wye Conference Center on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The minimal amount of water involved makes it attractive, Mr. Scarff said.

Engineers and fire protection specialists from around the nation attended a Hi-Fog demonstration recently in Montgomery County, Md. A house slated to be razed was outfitted with the protection system.

People gathered around televisions outside to watch the licking flames trigger the sprinkler heads. Within minutes, the flames were extinguished.

Ping-Li Yen, a fire protection specialist from California, said he was impressed with Hi-Fog. He also lauded Marriott for sponsoring the demonstration.

"They are not receiving any benefit for this. We appreciate the opportunity to see this technology."

The units can be retrofitted into existing homes in America, and Marioff officials said they are maintenance free for at least 10 years.

Maryland Fire Marshal Bill Barnard said he attended the demonstration because he was interested in seeing the technology that can make the difference for someone trapped in a fire.