Burn season has come early in southern Wisconsin this year, and while the last few days have been rainy, we have already done six burns this late winter. Maybe my memory is just foggy, but it seems that our burn season window is getting shorter with each passing year. Less winter snowpack and warmer winter temps result in fuels drying out earlier and faster in the late winter/early spring. This prolonged fuel drying often results in atypically low relative humidity that can render burning unsafe and threaten accomplishing the burn’s ecological objective. Combine all of this with a wildly oscillating jet stream that brings high winds with each major front reversal, it is clear that getting all the prescribed burns done while accomplishing the desired ecological objectives can be a real challenge.
The key to getting burns done in a timely fashion is to prioritize. Don’t overcommit. Prepare, mobilize quickly, and execute efficiently. There is much to talk about in all these subjects, but today’s post touches on the fire engine.
Refer to the picture below. This happens to be our personal fire engine that we use on our property. The fire engine is a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) with a custom built pumper unit fitted in the bed. The design of the pumper unit is key in enabling quick mobilization and burn-day efficiency. This particular pumper unit is modular, allowing only one person to load the pumper unit in the UTV. The skid is assembled from three pieces, and the three modular components consist of the tank, engine/pump and hose reel assemblies, which attach to the skid and plumb together with quick disconnect fittings. The pumper unit is low-profile, which is vital on our very steep slopes. The tank is 50 gallons and plumbed such that all 50 gallons can be utilized. The engine/pump will output a maximum of 12 gpm at 100 psi. The hose reel will handle up to 100’ of ¾” hose with an end-line shut-off valve and a quick disconnect coupler to marry with one of three nozzles. We use an adjustable flow (3 – 8 gpm) gun nozzle for wet lining and general purpose use. We use a straight smooth-bore nozzle for maximum distance such as reaching burning tree limbs. We use a foam gun nozzle for protecting “save” features, smothering burning woody debris such as punky wood, or installing foam/wet lines that need to hold for a longer duration (i.e. water only wet line would dry out too fast). The pumper unit has a quick adjust pressure regulator (0 – 150 psi) to optimize use and efficiency for each nozzle and their associated uses. The compact design of the pumper unit allows for extra space in the UTV bed to carry backpack pump cans, drip torch fuel, and containers of water. We mounted drip torch holders on the UTV roll bars for convenient storage of messy drip torches.
In summary, one person can load the pumper unit for quick mobilization. The fire engine operator, “engine boss,” can assist in quickly putting in black lines by laying a wet line ahead of the ignitor, protect “save” features or smother burning materials with foam, and put out hard to reach fires such as burning tree branches. Once the black lines are in, the engine boss can patrol the lines as a lookout and ferry equipment back and forth between the line crews. Without question, a fire engine with a well designed pumper unit is one of the most important assets on burn day!