Fire board tackles new regulations

A firefighter breaks down a portable pond after the Numbers Fire in 2020. Without some other means, water tenders are often the only source of firefighting water away from hydranted areas.

A firefighter breaks down a portable pond after the Numbers Fire in 2020. Without some other means, water tenders are often the only source of firefighting water away from hydranted areas.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

Want to hear something really scary?

A fire burning in a home built in the last half-century will become deadly four times faster than one built before 1970.

East Fork Firefighter’s Association President Kevin May said that residents have only 4.5 minutes to get out of a house built with modern materials.

“In pre-1970 construction, a residence typically had 17-19 minutes before it reached flashover state,” May told members of the East Fork Fire Protection District Board. “Flashover state is basically the state where a fire becomes unsurvivable.”

Once flashover state is reached, May said everything catches fire. He referred to the district’s meeting room as an example.

“To keep this room from reaching flashover state, we need to put a minimum of 150 gallons per minute in the room just to keep it from flashing,” he said. “That’s not to start extinguishing it. Our nozzles are 160 gallons per minute, so we just cross that line where we can start to extinguish that fire. That doesn’t leave us much water.”

A single fire engine carries about 4.5 minutes worth of water, and its water firefighters need every drop to save lives and property, May said.

“The need for water tenders for a house that is burning in a rural area is so significant for us to not just extinguish it but to have a chance to get in there do a primary search while keeping that room from flashing,” he said. “Water supply is our No. 1 concern when we get to these rural area residential fire structures.”

May said firefighters are willing to risk a lot to save a lot.

“If there’s a survivable viable victim in a structure, we’re going to make our best effort to get them,” he said. “But if that structure has been burning with no type of suppression system in modern construction for 8-10 minutes, the chances are very slim that’s a survivable environment for any life.”

District Board President Jacques Etchegoyen was shocked.

“I’m dismayed that we’re not building houses safer today than we were 50 years ago,” he said. “That just makes my head spin.”

District Board members got their first look at revised regulations that includes requiring sprinkler systems in new homes more than 1,000 feet away from a hydrant or a water tank that can provide fire flow.

Work on the regulations started after Douglas County commissioners repealed a three-year-old requirement for new homes. Of the sprinkler inspections done by the district, only around 10 percent ended up requiring a system.

Sprinklers may not be the only option for those building new homes in rural areas being proposed in the new regulations.

As with all things in Nevada, water is a critical considerations in battling house fires in the rural areas. Other options could include having owners install a water tank or even contribute to the cost of a water tender.

The district’s fleet of tenders is aging rapidly, particularly since they have to travel some of county’s most rugged roads to provide firefighting water.

The oldest tender, nicknamed T-Rex, dates back to the 1970s while the newest were purchased around 2004.

Being able to bring water to a rural fire isn’t the only solution.

Trustee Mike Sommers pushed for an alarm system that would alert firefighters to a blaze in a rural home.

“Geography is not our friend in this county,” Chief Tod Carlini said agreeing that a supervised system should be a consideration to speed up response. “This is about the whole process of water delivery in a rural area.”

District trustees are proposing a public outreach campaign to let people know what they are doing and why in November.

Etchegoyhen said he wanted to err on the side of transparency in the regulation approval.

“We’re going to be as open and transparent as we possible can,” he said. “There may be some things none of us anticipate. I want this to be a completely open book.”


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