Indonesia: Forest Fire Fighting Equipment. What to Buy? (will be published in IFFN No. 23 – December 2000)

Forest Fire Fighting Equipment.What to Buy?

(IFFN No. 23 – December 2000, p. 47-50)


On the surface, buying forest fire fighting equipment for use in Indonesia seems rather straight forward. Equipment to fight forest fires logically would include things like fire pumps and hose to put water on a fire. A variety of simple hand tools such as shovels, rakes and axes might seem appropriate. Perhaps fire trucks would be a good thing. These are all good general statements of what might be appropriate, but what exactly do we need to purchase? This is the question raised by the GTZ-Indonesia Integrated Forest Fire Management (IFFM) Project team in Samarinda when it was decided to purchase, in cooperation with KfW, suitable fire fighting tools to equip field headquarters in East Kalimantan.

To answer the question, many things were considered.

What is the terrain? Is it steep? Will firefighters need to pump water over long distances and up steep inclines? Is there access? Will firefighters have to carry equipment long distances over rough terrain or can they get close to the fire with trucks? Are there water sources suitable to operate portable fire pumps or to fill light back pack pumps or to fill mobile tankers?

What are the forest fuels like? A firefighter looks at the forest, but he doesn’t see trees. He sees fuel. Is there a deep layer of fuel on the forest floor? Will shovels work or would one have to dig too deep? Are there areas covered with fine fuels such as grass, where tools like fire swatters can smother the fire? Or, will we be dealing with heavy fuels requiring chain saws to build fire line? Is there a light surface layer of leaves and litter where rakes could be effective? Are there roots to be chopped?

And what about the fire? If fires are intense and fast moving, things like water tankers and fire pumps become more valuable. Water allows a firefighter to tackle a more intense fire. While high intensity fires require water, low intensity fires can be easily and effectively attacked using only hand tools such as shovels and rakes.

All of these things were looked at. All of the questions needed an answer. And in finding the answers, we realized that because East Kalimantan holds a great variety of terrain, fuel, water sources and fire behaviour, no one tool is sufficient to do the job. A mix of hand tools, pumps, hose and water carrying tankers is required for fire suppression in the province.

But there is more. Once one decides on a piece of equipment, such as a truck with a water tank, there are still more things to be considered.

What type of truck will do the job? How large a tank can it carry? How well will it perform in forest conditions? A vehicle designed for quick response on paved highways or city streets would not travel far on the steep terrain and rough roads of East Kalimantan. In the end, four wheel drive, utility pickup trucks with small easily loaded water tanks seemed most appropriate. Highly mobile units with self-contained pump and hose were deemed best for local conditions.

When ordering these “slip-on tanker” units, we wanted to pay particular attention to ensuring safety, ease of operation and maintenance. In addition, we needed to guarantee the slip-on units would be compatible with other portable pumps and hose also being purchased. Although the slip-on units are capable of taking water directly, using their own pump, many water sources are far from the road and are not available for direct water pickup. We asked for connections and fill openings on the tanks which allow filling from a portable fire pump placed at a water source which would be too far from the road for the truck to access.

In our initial evaluation we determined that water, although scarce in many areas and during long lasting dry periods, nonetheless, is available in sufficient quantity to make the portable fire pump a viable piece of equipment. We learned, when visiting local headquarters, that staff would like to have pumps and hose. In areas where pumps and hose have been available in the past, there is a very strong wish to receive additional equipment of this type.

Local firefighters also have a clear opinion on the basic requirements for a fire pump. To be useful, a power pump must be light weight, reliable, easily transported by one person and produce a good working pressure over a long distance.

To meet these needs, a multi-stage centrifugal power pump was selected. A centrifugal pump will allow pumping from natural water sources which might contain some debris. The centrifugal system will allow pumps to be connected in tandem to overcome distance and elevation. Multi-stage is important to ensure the pump will deliver water quickly and will produce adequate pressure over the distances and elevations found in the forests of East Kalimantan.

Spare parts and maintenance are critical things to be considered. Several power pumps were seen in our field visits and in most cases the pumps were in a poor state of repair. District staff were concerned that spare parts and maintenance were not available locally for these pumps. This left us with a dilemma. To do the fire suppression job, the pumps had to be specialized high performance fire fighting units. However, such units are not available locally raising the problem of future service and replacement of worn out or damaged parts. To solve the problem, a supply of spare engine parts, spark plugs, pump grease etc. was identified and ordered to support the main equipment. In addition, suppliers were evaluated on their ability to provide follow-up service and support in East Kalimantan.

Pumps need hose and fire hose comes in many different types and sizes. Large diameter hose will deliver high volume of water with little loss of pressure. Small diameter hose on the other hand is light and easy to manipulate in forest conditions. A compromise had to be struck. Both 25 mm and 38 mm diameter hoses were purchased. In many instances, long hose lays will be required. 38 mm diameter hose lines will provide a reasonable volume and working pressure on these longer hose lays, yet it is light and easy to handle in rugged forest conditions. To ease the work load of the firefighter, especially in mop-up, 25 mm hose was also purchased. In many cases we are expecting that 38 mm hose will be used to deliver water over the longer distance to the fire and then 25 mm hose will be used along the fire’s edge.

The high relative humidity typical of a tropical environment makes hose storage difficult. Natural fibre hose although strong, is very susceptible to mildew and rot. For this reason, a synthetic fibre fire hose was ordered. Good quality synthetic hose is available and is very mildew and rot resistant. Synthetic hose has an added advantage of being lighter and easier to package. Synthetic hose does not have the same abrasion resistant characteristics as natural fibre hose. However, because there is little rock in the local terrain, abrasion was not considered to be the most important criterion when selecting hose. We felt the mildew and rot resistant properties of synthetic fibre hose was a more important consideration.

One characteristic of the hose purchased is that it will actually leak a slight bit. It may seem strange to purposely buy leaking hose, but in fact for forest fire fighting, this is exactly what is wanted. The lining of the hose is perforated to allow water to soak through and keep the outer jacket of the hose wet at all times. The wetness protects the hose from burning. On forest fires, hose must often be laid across smouldering or still burning material and so it must be self protecting or it will burn and burst.

As with all of the equipment, hose requires regular maintenance. A complete kit necessary to do hose testing (to make sure it will withstand the high pressure produced by the pump), cleaning, patching and re-coupling was purchased for each location.

Even hose couplings are important and preparing to purchase a large number of them requires some important decisions. There are a number of different thread standards and coupling systems available. A decision on the hose coupling system had to be made. While visiting various areas, we saw a number of different threads in use. This mix of coupling type and thread has the potential to cause problems when pumps and hose are shared amongst neighbouring districts. Some concessions in the Province also own and use portable power pumps and hose. Undoubtedly here again there will be a variety of thread standards depending on when and where the pumps and hose were purchased. Because there is no standard in the Province, we had to adopt our own standard for the current purchase. This decision was not taken lightly. Once a standard has been adopted, it will affect all future hose purchases.

Rather than continuing with threaded couplings, the quarter turn quick connect coupling system, which is becoming a standard in North America, was adopted. There are a number of advantages to this coupling system: 

  • The couplings mate with only a 1/4 turn allowing quick and easy coupling.
  • Quick connect couplings do not damage as easily as threaded couplings. Cross threading is not possible. One does not have to take the same level of care to protect threads.
  • The system has no male or female couplings. The couplings on both ends of the hose are the same meaning one always has the proper end of the hose. This simplifies training, operations with the hose and the retrieval and packaging process.
  • With the Quick Connect system, we could get away with buying fewer spare couplings. It is not necessary to stock both male and female couplings.
  • We wanted to buy both 38 mm diameter hose and 25 mm diameter hose. In the quick connect system, both 25 mm and 38 mm couplings have the same face. This eliminates the need for an adapter to join a 25 mm line to a 38 mm line. The same nozzles, wye, water thief, tandem adapters all work with both 25 and 38 mm hose reducing the numbers of pieces required for purchase and the number of pieces carried into the bush.

Of course, since we know there are other threads and coupling systems in use in the province, we also purchased adapters and additional couplings so that incompatible systems could still be brought together.

Back Pack pumps are small portable bags, to carry water, along with a simple hand pump to direct the water at the fire. They are very effective in forest fire suppression operations. In East Kalimantan, water for pack pumps will come from a number of sources. In many cases, a firefighter will take water from streams and wet swampy areas. We know from experience that using field water sources can lead to blockages and valves sticking in the action of the pump. Single action trombone pumps were chosen for their simplicity and ease of field repair. A mix of soft container and hard container tanks was considered, however, after talking with staff from Dinas Kehutanan, we decided to buy only the soft, collapsible containers. We felt that the advantages of easy storage and shipping were important.

Water supply, although available in many areas, may be a problem, particularly in very dry seasons. Large capacity collapsible water tanks were ordered to supplement tanker, power pump and back pack pump operations. These tanks can be carried right into the forest and used as storage containers close to the fire site. The connections on the portable tanks were specifically selected to be compatible with the pumps and hose. Water can be transported to the portable tanks using large (5,000 litre) water trucks or the smaller slip-on tankers. This should help to assure a constant supply of water at the fire’s edge during suppression and mop-up operations.

The terrain, fuel, access, availability of water, availability of manpower and the type of fire behaviour usually experienced combine to make hand tools very effective for fire suppression in East Kalimantan. A variety of hand tools were considered for this purchase. Shovels, Pulaskis (a combination axe and hoe), fire swatters and McLeod Tools (special fire rakes) were bought.

We took great care to specify a strong, straight, knot free, wooden handle for the hand tools. It seems a simple thing, but fire fighting is hard work. Hard, not only on firefighters, but also hard on equipment. When buying hand tools, high quality is essential. It is bad if you break the handle of your shovel on the fire line. Not only do we have a broken shovel to repair or replace, but perhaps more important, we also have a firefighter who is now taken out of production until a replacement shovel is brought in.

It was obvious during the field visits, that retrieval and maintenance of hand tools will be a challenge. In those headquarters were equipment has previously been supplied, the equipment is not well maintained. We saw many instances where the handles on hand tools were broken. The local staff simply do not have the resources to repair these items. A “Hand Tool Spares and Maintenance Kit” was identified and purchased for each headquarters. Additional kits were bought for the provincial equipment cache. These kits are comprised mostly of replacement handles for each type of hand tool. Additional maintenance items such as files for sharpening tools, brushes for cleaning and tape to protect sharp edges were included in the maintenance spares kit.

Because it is important to provide a good maintenance facility in each headquarters, a number of general maintenance tools will be supplied to provide a start up for equipment recycle and repair. Included are a variety of wrenches, screw drivers, hand drills, wire brushes and other small tools. Undoubtedly there will be other items required. This assortment of equipment is intended to provide a basis on which to build so that equipment can be maintained from the outset.

And so it goes. When answering the question, “What to buy?”, alternatives are explored and decisions on exactly what to buy are made. But of course it doesn’t end there. The finest equipment in the world is of little value unless there are well-trained firefighters to put it to its best use.

Which of course begs the question . . .

Forest Firefighter Training. What to Teach?

 

Contact address

Dick White
Fire Management Consultant
2003 Craig Road
STROUD, Ontario
CANADA L0L 2M0

E-mail: dwhite@sympatico.ca


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