Friday, July 23, 2021

Snuffed Out

CVTC, ECFD find safer alternative to fighting fires

Article Photo - Snuffed Out

An Eau Claire firefighter helping with the fire suppressant demonstration at the L.E. Phillips Fire Safety Center on CVTC’s west campus Thursday proved how quickly a fire can be extinguished with F-500 – an encapsulating agent that does not contain harmful PFAS chemicals.


EAU CLAIRE - Fifteen wooden pallets sat catawampus on top of each other near the L.E. Phillips Fire Safety Center on Chippewa Valley Technical College’s west campus.

Dawn Crim watched with interest as the pile went up in flames and the fire raged.

Crim, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, has regularly engaged with fire departments throughout the state since joining DSPS in January 2019.

Thursday, she visited CVTC and gathered with firefighters throughout the area to watch the Eau Claire Fire Department demonstrate extinguishing a fire with F-500 encapsulating agent. The white liquid, not technically foam, is a replacement for foam with PFAS that had previously been used by the fire department. Water is used in many firefighting scenarios, but some call for a different approach, like the use of F-500.

As the fire continued to roar, Brian Toonen, battalion chief with Eau Claire Fire Department, gave the nod to extinguish the blaze with the F-500 spray. Within seconds the red flames were replaced with white smoke. The fire was knocked down almost instantly, and because of the encapsulating agent, the charred wood was cool enough to touch.

“It’s magic, I know,” Toonen joked.

Actually, it’s not.

F-500 is called an encapsulating agent because it bonds to water droplets and pulls the heat inward. It cools and extinguishes, but it also doesn’t contain PFAS – chemicals in firefighting agents that are linked to adverse health effects.

The Eau Claire Fire Department has been working since 2019 on a solution to the PFAS problem. Although they only used foam in certain high-heat fire situations, it was imperative that they replace their foam product.

“We took a proactive approach to find a new agent,” said Al Bertrang, deputy chief with Eau Claire Fire Department. “The (F-500) encapsulating agent is on all of our trucks that are in service.”

Crim, the Secretary of the Department of Safety and Professional Services, said it was impressive to see a demonstration that encompassed fire and community safety, a number of firefighters from departments throughout western Wisconsin, and the collaboration between Eau Claire Fire Department and CVTC.

“I welcome opportunities to interact with our technical college system and learn how our agency can keep the pipelines to the licensed workforce open equally to all,” Crim said. “This partnership between the Eau Claire Fire Department and the Chippewa Valley Technical College is also a great example of how different government bodies can work together on multiple mutual goals, and I am happy to be able to be here today to see their collaboration in action.”

Firefighters are a key stakeholder group for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, which oversees firefighter health and safety regulations and administers the 2 percent dues program that returns a portion of insurance funds back to fire departments.

Aside from curriculum, CVTC is ramping up its Emergency Service prowess with facility enhancements on the West Campus including remodeling and a 27,800 square feet addition. Individuals coming into the field and emergency service organizations like township fire departments throughout the district depend on the college to meet ongoing training requirement needs.

“It’s important for us to look ahead and be prepared for the needs to come,” said Shelly Olson, dean of health and emergency services. “We’re able to develop a multi-use training facility that meets foreseeable curriculum requirements. The demonstrations of PFAS-free encapsulating agent today is an example of the important testing that takes place at CVTC.”

Crim said improvements to facilities and curriculum to enhance safety are key. She’s working on other measures to increase safety throughout the state. The Department of Safety and Professional Services operates the state fire prevention program and is launching a youth training program to help recruit new members to volunteer-run departments that struggle to maintain the staffing levels and expertise they need to operate optimally.

In nearly two years, Crim has worked to help implement safety updates throughout the state – meeting with fire departments to strengthen relationships and learn about needs and concerns throughout the fire service.

“Firefighters are our partners in safety, and the work they do to educate and protect our communities is critical and invaluable,” Secretary Crim said. “I am honored to work closely and frequently with fire departments throughout the state, and I appreciate every opportunity I have to learn from them and to thank them for their service and commitment.”

 
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