Breaking from tradition can be difficult in many situations, even if it is for the sake of improvement.
But a new tool that has been extensively researched and recently employed by the Loveland Fire Rescue Authority is reducing the danger local firefighters face and improving their results with battling flames.
Fog nails, which are nozzles that can be drilled through a wall or roof and spray mist into a burning building, have been used to assist in extinguishing four structure fires already this year since LFRA’s fleet was outfitted with them just over a month ago, according to Battalion Chief Jason Starck.
The first fire on which fog nails were used occurred on North Estrella Avenue on March 25, the second at the Rosebud Motel on April 22, the third on West Broadmoor Drive on May 4 and most recently they helped put out the blaze Sunday night on Abeyta Court.
Though the tools are proving their effectiveness, Loveland has one of the first fire departments in the country to use the devices, as they have drawn criticism from agencies in other areas because they diminish the need to make an immediate entrance into a burning structure.
The science behind how the device works, however, is undeniable, Starck contends, and at least one major fire department in the region is following LFRA’s lead with the addition of fog nails to its arsenal.
Poudre Fire Authority’s Training Capt. Gene Maccarini is hoping to have at least two of the Fort Collins fire department’s engine companies outfitted with fog nails by July, he said.
“We fear what we don’t understand sometimes,” Maccarini said. “That’s the fire service in general. We were pretty skeptical of (fog nails) at first, but the more we started looking into them, the more they started looking like a no-brainer.”
By studying the way fires behave in tight quarters, such as inside a bedroom or attic, firefighters have determined some of their traditional tactics may be less effective than previously thought.
In the past, to fight a fire that spreads into an attic space or horizontally indoors, firefighters would attempt to remove heat by ventilating a burning room with a 4-by-8-foot hole cut into the roof above flames, Starck said.
The problem with that, though, is additional oxygen gets added, and can cause smoldering coals to reignite if it is hot enough.
With fog nails, which spray water with the intent to maximize the surface area that moisture occupies, a room can be cooled more quickly because the addition of water drains energy from the fire as it is converted into vapor, without the introduction of more oxygen to the equation.
Starck said spaces as hot as several hundred degrees can be cooled to less than 200 degrees in a matter of seconds with the proper use of a fog nail, a process that actually speeds up the time it takes for firefighters to safely enter a building, as well as allows enough visibility to locate any trapped person.
“You can’t find someone in a smoke-filled building quickly no matter what you do,” Starck said.
In other words, taking the time to cool a burning structure’s interior with the use of a fog nail from outside is worthwhile. Plus, Starck said the holes in walls or roofs left by the insertion of fog nails are much smaller — less than an inch in diameter — than those formerly cut by firefighters for the purpose of ventilation.
LFRA’s journey toward the frequent application of fog nails began two years ago, Starck said, when the agency began using smoke curtains to limit additional oxygen from fueling a fire. The smoke curtains are now often used simultaneously with the fog nails, as they fight fire using the same scientific concepts: cut off oxygen, add cooling water.
“Now we know how to make the fire fight itself,” Starck said.
Meanwhile, the debate between using traditional interior attacks on fires and fighting them from the outside with devices such as fog nails continues among fire agencies across the country.
In fact, Starck said the Loveland fire department is one of just a handful in the United States to use fog nails, despite that fire departments across Europe have been effectively using fog nails for more than 10 years since they were developed in Sweden.
Changing the overall attitude of the fire service in this country toward the use of fire nails is not LFRA’s stated goal, but that may be happening anyway.
“We’re changing it in this city, and that’s all I care about,” Starck said.
“Anybody that’s innovative and is the first to break through that wall is going to take criticism. We’re just following what (LFRA) has done,” Maccarini said.
Starck acknowledged fog nails “are not the answer for everything,” as they work best in tightly enclosed areas.
Still, completely eliminating the occasions when firefighters must enter a burning building is not possible, even with technology such as fire curtains and fog nails, Maccarini said.
“We’ll always have to go inside. Our job is still full of risks,” he said.