Harnessing sprayers to tame fire

An Alberta farm-invention puts out fire using existing investments, making use of reliable off-road capacity

Self-propelled, high clearance sprayers are great for spraying and have become three-season rigs. As well, in an emergency these could control a serious fire, with the right gear.

That’s what Arrowwood, Alta., custom applicator Clark Oberhotlzer figured out.

He had seen the damage that fires brought to his southern Alberta and Saskatchewan neighbours in the past couple of years and was motivated to come up with some new tools that producers could use on their farms and in their communities.

“We often have the need for fire control in rural communities, and looking at the capacity of these machines for fluid, complete with pumps, cabs and up in the air. And able to go nearly anywhere you might need to fight a fire. They just needed one more thing,” he said.

He designed a remote-controlled water cannon with a directional, front-mounted nozzle, able to cover up to 100 feet in a narrow pattern, aggressively attacking a fire, or fog a wider area with a softer flood of water for dousing smouldering fire lines or wetting a stopping perimeter at a firebreak.

“With the pumps on these machines often pushing 125 gallons per minute at 125 (pounds per inch) these are better fire-fighting machines than some dedicated trucks. And carrying more water,” he said.

At 80 p.s.i. and 85 gallons per minute, the Fire Tamer can reach out 100 feet with a high-flow, narrow stream and can keep it up for 15 minutes on a 1,200 gallon sprayer. | Clark Oberholtzer photo

Most farms have some fire-fighting plans, often using a spray tender and dewatering pump. However these are largely based on tandem trucks, often with trailers, limiting the machines’ abilities to work in fields and pastures or traverse ditches or roadsides, and generally requiring two people to run them.

Often rural fire-fighting rigs are four-wheel drive trucks, but that doesn’t provide much clearance in tall grass or crops and these are prone to collecting that dry material in their chassis, putting the machines at risk of catching or even starting fires.

“Those are two-man outfits, with one person driving and one on the deck aiming the water. What we built was a single person outfit, with operator safely up in the cab,” said Oberhotlzer.

He said he wanted the system to be mounted “out-front” but not “in the way” so that a farmer could work around it without it being a problem. “And we knew it had to be able to be quickly mounted on a machine,” he said.

To make that a reality he designed a standardized sprayer unit that attaches with a mounting kit designed for most major brands and models of sprayers.

“Loosen two bolts, disconnect the power and remove a pin (with a jamb-bolt) and it slides off,” he said.

That also meant it could be transferred to new sprayer, retaining the investment in the fire-fighting unit when trading.

Initial testing of the unit, run at 80 p.s.i., it is designed to run at 100, showed it delivers a 100 foot stream of water with “a dousing volume of 85 gallons per minute.”

“With a 1,200-gallon sprayer, that means about 15 minutes of mobile and aggressive fire-fighting. Hard to match that and there are far more sprayers in a community than there are fire trucks,” he said.

Removing a jamb-bolt and a pin, disconnecting the power and camlock on the two-inch water line releases the Fire Tamer from the front of the sprayer. | Clark Oberholtzer photo

To make it easy to install, the aluminum unit runs on 12 volt electricity. Its water cannon has a 180 degree sweep of travel horizontally, while it moves 70 degrees vertically, 20 down and 45 up. The wireless remote controls the main ball valve and the directions of the cannon and can be carried outside of the cab. A second, redundant, wired remote remains in the cab. Fogging or streaming controls are adjusted manually at the fire nozzle. The Fire Tamer is based on two-inch plumbing and is installed to interrupt the flow, post pump. It can be bypassed when not in use. A manual valve cuts off the unit from the sprayer.

“We knew it had to be really durable and reliable. Everything is engineered to be really solid. The movement of the cannon is run with linear actuators and meshed gears. We built into the electrical limit switches and thermal load protection. All the parts are made in North America,” he said.

For more information, Oberhotlzer can be reached at 403-485-8198 or sdoberholtzer@hotmail.com.

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