At first sight you’d think this building was a goner. It isn’t. There was an article about a barn fire up in Cummington in the Gazette the other day. What interested me was that the mutual aid people from Goshen and Plainfield and Cummington managed to save this building, when the fire had a significant head start. The white stuff on the ground in the above picture (Thanks Gazette) isn’t snow, but pressurized fire retardant.
The foam had been cleaned up by the time I got there. It was a challenging fire scene. Cold, wind, narrow roads, the house a mile and a half from the fire station and a quarter mile from the nearest water (a pond). They only had nine people af the fire scene and they put it out. A fire crew based in modest surroundings (here)
but with space-age equipment inside, a bountiful supply of emergency water, and headed up by a strategic genius, Fire Chief Dennis Forgea.
When they arrived flames were bursting out the doors and windows on the first floor. The owners had tried to fight it with buckets of water, but the core of the blaze was hidden under the steel roof. Fully involved is the usual phrase I think. I took a picture of a hunk of the burned-out floor and joists to show you how much fire there was.
When you have see big swaths of missing floor and missing posts and 2 x 12 joists totally burnt away,a substantial amount of mass had been converted to energy. E= MC2. When they first arrived, they had to back the fire engine away from the building to save it from going up too. But they saved the building. They fought it from the outside, they fought it from the inside. The building inspector said the building, if you stay out of certain areas of it, is safe, and the owner will rebuild.
About 20 feet of the eastern end of the barn is ruined, but they saved the main house, they killed the fire before it swallowed much of the ground floor and the owner’s second floor carpentry shop just sustained smoke damage. Denny says that they could have never put it out without their new Smeal engine with its built-in pressurized foam system. They use Phoscheck, which is recommended by the U.S. Forest Service. They use it for all their fires, from trash-barrel size on up. Using it takes constant practice, since the adjustment to the mixture is critical, it can’t be too soupy, can’t be too dry. What this foam does to a house fire is fight it like Ipana fights cavities. Three ways, or is it four? It bonds (clings?) to carbon, so it sticks to and seals off the burning surface from oxygen. It stays put on the fire, and very little of it freezes or evaporates or runs off. They used 32 gallons of suppressant to put it out, and some water once they got the hose run from the pond. They were there fighting it from six am to 2 pm and then came back the next morning to check that everything was out.
You can handle foam with a smaller crew. They started the attack from the street, and then they put up the boom and some heroes or heroines knocked the steel cupola off, got access to the fire, strapped the other hose to the boom and got their other hose into play to fight the fire from up above . They saved an historic building and kept the fire from involving the main house.
We should convert our Florence pumper to foam. Our department is already engaged in surveying where available water is in the higher parts of Northampton and the chief says we are stepping up our ability to pump from standpipes and swimming pools. Owners build in remote locations at the end of long ascending driveways. Fires spread rapidly in houses with open framing, big windows, and high ceilings. With foam you can start putting out the fire right away and not waste time digging out anemic or dysfunctional hydrants. We’ll gain precious moments and save homes.