Getting new planes for the US Forest Service won’t save lives…

Getting new planes for the US Forest Service won’t save lives or property
if the retardant used isn’t replaced with something new.

06 July 2012

published by

USA -“It doesn’t make any sense” said Ed Kleiman former US Forest Service, MTDC (Missoula Technology & Development Center) Wildland Fire Chemical Systems employee, who now works with “FireIce” a company that produces SAPG (super absorbent polymer gel) based fire retardant. Why is the USFS (US Forest Service) using a 50 year old fire retardant that is as old as the planes performing the drops, and is mainly a phosphate salt, red metal oxide colorant, gum thickener, & unnamed corrosion inhibitor which has never been proven to stop a fire.

Andy Stahl from the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) has successfully sued the US Forest Service three times confirmed Kleiman’s assertion that the US Forest Service 50 year old “red slurry” Phos-Chek, fire retardant has no proof or documentation that it has ever been effective in preventing loss of life or property.

Federal Judge Donald Malloy recently decided in a most recent USFS case involving FSEEE and ruled against the use of “Phos-Chek”, which has the same phosphate based ingredient banned in 17 states in 2010 from household washing detergents, found to have polluted lakes, rivers and waterways. Phos-Chek was created by Monsanto who also created “agent orange” a controversial defoliant used during the US Vietnam conflict.

It was ruled that Phos-Chek was not to be dropped on any waterways or threatened or endangered species but as a compromised policy enacted by the US Forest Service and after being excluded from many areas by law the US Forest Service continues to drop the “50 year old red slurry” by using loopholes to avoid dealing with the toxicity of Phos-Chek

The question I posed to politicians in New Mexico, to include the Governor Susana Martinez, was if you had a choice between something toxic with unproven effectiveness and something non-toxic that has been proven to save lives and structures what would your choice be. Her response was expected. She would rather use something non-toxic that could save lives and structures.

This same concern is expressed by New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce who is working on an investigation into possible negligence of the US Forest Service, when it claimed it used all the available resources to fight the 2012 Little Bear fire in New Mexico, where almost 250 homes were destroyed.

An example is the non-toxic, gel based technology fire retardants, which is an alternative to Phos-Chek, but was not allowed to be used by air tankers. The USFS QPL (Quality Products Listing) which are products approved for use by the US Forest Service shows FireIce as approved for use

When I asked the US Forest Service spokesperson, Jennifer Jones, the public affairs officer with the USFS National Interagency Fire Center, what would it take to get an alternative fire retardant to Phos-Chek, with something that is already listed in their QPL flown on air tankers for use in New Mexico? I was told that local fire managers could make that decision.

However, when I specifically mentioned not for use on trucks but by air tankers. There was a long pause and she said that was out of her area of expertise and I would need to contact the regional fire manager for New Mexico. She also asked “where was I coming from with that question”. She said I could email her and she would provide me the name of someone who could answer my question but as of yet that has not occurred, even after the next day I called to ask again for that same information with no response.

I saw an email from Joe Walsh spokesperson for the US Forest Service, that stated FireIce is an alternative to the phosphate based Phos-Chek and is available on the QPL and decisions to use any product are made at the local—or field unit—level. However, Ed Kleiman said this isn’t true for “multi-engine airtanker” usage and that decision is made by the Forest Service, Washington office for Fire and Aviation Management.

I contacted Peter Cordani, chief technology officer, an inventor for GelTech Solutions, a publicly held company, GLTC, listed on the US Forest Service approved QPL regarding FireIce, which is an alternative to the phosphate based retardant “red slurry” which is at this time the only fire retardant allowed in large multi-engine air tankers.

Peter Cordani, stated FireIce is a gel based technology fire retardant proven to be non-toxic, & non-corrosive. He also stated GelTech Solutions has a federal BPA (blanket purchase agreement) for its product and the delivery equipment and although FireIce is approved for large multi-engine air tankers, helicopter, single engine planes & ground engines and is on the USFS QPL they are not being allowed use in multi-engine, large air tankers because of an contradictory US Forest policy that excludes gel based fire retardants.

While all other international, state & federal agencies recognize the validity of gel based fire retardants and direct fire attack and suppression, the US Forest Service maintains a restrictive control on the use of gel based fire retardant’s for any such usages in large multi-engine air tankers and their policy needs to be changed yesterday, Cordani said.

Tony Morris, of the Wildfire Research Network said “the US Forest Service is the only agency in the world that doesn’t directly suppress and attack fires immediately and look at the results they speak for themselves.”

Cordani added, the bottom line is, I know FireIce is going to revolutionize fire fighting all around the world, it will save lives, property and bring safety to the pilots and the ground crews. It is environmentally friendly, it saves millions of gallons of water, is lighter, cheaper than any product currently being used today, and hands down it is the most effective fire suppressant/retardant in the world.

A huge concern is pilot safety, Cordani declared, FireIce is one pound lighter per gallon than the “red slurry” currently being used. If you were to fill up a DC-10 to its maximum capacity of 12,000 gallons, that same air tanker using FireIce would be 12,000 pounds lighter. This means that pilots are safer because of less stress put on the planes. He pointed to past incidents of wings breaking off of planes during other drops.

Cordani said the current US Forest Service policy needs to be changed to allow direct attack & suppression from the air with large air tankers using FireIce. The Forest Service states in its own publication found at “Long-term retardants (direct and indirect attack): … Note: Long-term retardants are no more effective than plain water in direct attack. Whenever possible, plain water, foam or gel should be used for direct attack.” * Long-term retardants used in this context is synonymous with “red slurry” or the trademark name “Phos-Check” (I added this asterisk marked comment)

Cordani continued, “So when you ask me why wasn’t FireIce used on the wildfire in Colorado, when it should have been a “no brainer”. It’s inconceivable why anyone would not use it, and makes me question the decision making process. Cordani recently received hundreds of calls from firefighters and citizens asking why isn’t FireIce being used in Colorado?” Even his own mother and young son were so emotionally distraught over the losses, he decided to immediately fly out with a team of FireIce experts to Colorado and put the entire FireIce Staff on standby, to offer help to include cutting edge equipment and delivery systems.

After Cordani’s meeting with the Colorado Governor’s office, numerous calls, emails, late nights and offers to help, the opportunity sadly never materialized to use FireIce, to save lives and property. After Cordani returned to his hotel and saw the devastation on the news reports he felt sick because he could have made a huge difference knowing that all the resources available were not used.

The opposite was true at the 300+ acre Romero wildfire, June 28, 2012 near Albuquerque New Mexico where Dutch Synder, a 27 year veteran of SEAT (single engine air tankers) credits FireIce for stopping the fires before they could grow out of control. “I have never seen a retardant hold a fire line like FireIce or any product knockdown a fire so quickly as a suppressant with the added safety of being lightweight.”

Fire Managers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) credited FireIce and SEAT pilots with preventing another large wildfire in the southwest United States. “We witnessed the effectiveness of FireIce today and the results were exceptional, it’s a superior retardant,” stated Elizabeth Dick, BIA manger of Airtankers. “With 14 minute turnaround times, no other product mixes so fast and effortlessly without any cleanup problems, “ added mixmaster and loader, John Reinhart.

Ed Kleiman added that although, FireIce is defined & classified by the US Forest Service as a “water enhancer” instead of a “fire retardant” it is a specification that doesn’t match the definition. FireIce is mixed the same, uses the same equipment, with the same viscosity, drop patterns, and ground coverage with the added benefit of being both a suppressant and retardant. The transition for usage would be seamless at a fraction of the cost. It does not require an emulsifier, pressurized or atomized equipment. FireIce is the only gel based fire retardant that uses a simple “gravity tank” system, there are no expensive compressors, pumps, piping or any heavy or complicated accessories needed and no harsh chemicals needed for clean up.

Ed Kleiman went on to recount the lack of advances in phosphate salt based fire retardants. When I asked had any changes or improvements been made to the 50 year old “red slurry” product. Mr. Kleiman said that different phosphate salts were substituted but it remained essentially the same with the mixing ratio recently changed to add more water, an increase in price with less product.

Kleiman recounted a forest service historical usage of retardant materials starting with Borate in the 50’s until it was found in 1956 to sterilize the ground it was used on. Borate was then replaced with both competing products of GelGuard a basic version of today’s polymer gel and Phos-Chek which is basically the same phosphate salt product in use today. Both products were used in Canada and the US in the 60’s until the early 70’s and tests were done which showed polymer gel products more effective.

The first Phos-Chek retardant product was available in 1962. The Phos-Chek brand belonged to the Monsanto Company until 1998, when ownership was transferred to Solutia Inc. In 2000, Astaris LLC acquired the Phos-Chek name. In November 2005, Astaris LLC was acquired by Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) which is one of the largest miners of phosphate and develops and markets fertilizers, metals and other special-purpose chemical products, and the Phos-Chek brand was renamed “Phos-Chek Fire Safety Group” and assigned to the Performance Products division of ICL (ICL PPLP). The same ICL company that owns Phos-Chek is under scrutiny for its other toxic and ineffective fire retardant’s and is currently proposed to be banned in California, New York & Washington.

Fire-Trol & Phos-Chek were past competitors in the Ammonium Phosphate fire retardant industry. However, Fire Trol named all of the components of their ingredients specifically the corrosion inhibitor which used sodium ferrocyanide, that led to their downfall because it was determined to be toxic while Phos-Chek which used a corrosion inhibitor is commonly believed to be just as toxic but was classified as a trade secret so it did not have to be revealed or known. In 2000 the ban against Sodium Ferro Cyanide was made and its usage were suspended for three week but the Forest Service continued to use the product.

However, in 2003 the US Forest Service made a determination to use only gum thickened retardant which reflected Phos-Chek’s patent. Fire-Trol filed suit against the Forest Service for failure to follow its own procedures when making changes to QPL which effectively put it out of business and Fire-Trol was bought out by Phos-Check ending any future claims.

I called Cecelia Johnson, one of the longest working employee in the US Forest Service fire chemicals program to gain a historical perspective on the issue. She still works at the Missoula Technology Development Center (MTDC) 42 years later. She made it clear that to discuss anything with any press or media needs to get clearance from Jennifer Jones, USFS spokesperson. It was obvious to me that she felt constrained to speak freely.

A 2010 Forest Service memo that appeared to be a “gag order” of sorts was sent to me outlining the concern of any USFS employee making comments to the press or media. I don’t know if this applies in this case but no doubt there is mounting pressure from all sides inquiring into Forest Service practice and policies in light of all the destruction and loss associate with recent mega fires in New Mexico, Colorado and in other Western states.

Two simple policies of the US Forest Service need to be changed. The rest of the world mandates direct suppression and attack on fires as soon as possible and so should the US Forest Service follow suit. The other USFS policy not allowing gel based fire retardant’s like FireIce to be used in larger multi-engine air tankers should be removed. Even the Bible seems to add wisdom to this issue in Luke 5:38 it advises to put new wine in new wineskins. My take is don’t put old retardant into new planes.

In my second part of this expose to be released later, I want to show how other current policies, practices & procedures hinder the US Forest Service from acting quickly and effectively in firefighting.

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