“If I have to evacuate, will you take my goats?”

“I’ll take your goats but not your kids!”

I still can’t believe I said that. The goat-lady was my friend Michelle, calling me during the Witch Creek Fire. Stress makes you do funny things. She laughed, thank God.

In the end, Michelle never had to evacuate, and my own kids were disappointed at the missed opportunity to goat-sit. Last week, Michelle called again and asked if I would do the Eve thing and look into getting a portable fire pump. She said that she heard that a neighbor of hers had saved his house because he had one.

“The Fire Pump is an engine-powered pump outfitted with pull hoses and mounted on a pull cart,” explained Gregory Schork, owner of Home Fire Buster (619-890-4685; homefirebuster.com). “It sucks water out of a pool, lake, Jacuzzi, or even a water-storage tank — any nearby water source. You can use it to prepare your property before a fire gets to it.” Of course, notes Schork, a former firefighter, some preparation is best done before a fire even starts. “If possible, clear the perimeter of your house of brush — 50 yards is recommended. Don’t leave debris or stacks of wood around your house. Embers can blow into your eaves, so make sure your eaves are all screened up. And the type of roof you have can save or condemn your house. Wood shake tiles are the worst. Ceramic tiles are better, but people are under the false impression that if they have ceramic tiles, the house won’t catch on fire. Embers can blow up under the tiles.”

That’s where the Home Fire Buster comes in. “With this pump, you can wet down your property, the brush around your house, and your roof. You can spray water up under your tiles, so that if embers do blow up in there, the roof won’t catch fire. It’s a great deterrent to wind-borne sparks. You put one hose end into your water source, fill the pump with water from a garden hose or pitcher, and start the engine. When the nozzle is on, the water flows at about 60 gallons per minute. The higher the pressure, the harder the hose is to handle. I wanted something more user-friendly, so that there wouldn’t be too much pressure but still a gaggle of water coming out.”

Another user-friendly feature: “The cart has rugged, extra-large-diameter wheels. It goes up and down steps and over rocks easily.”

The pump, said Schork, “can shoot eight stories high vertically, and 80 to 100 feet outward — depending on the wind. It has a Briggs & Stratton 5.5 horsepower gasoline engine that starts easily with a pull cord. It’s a tested and true engine from an American company — lots of lawn mowers and go-carts use them. The engine is connected to a Pacer pump made of thermoplastic. Some pumps are metal, and they tend to wear on the inside. The plastic pumps don’t break or crack.”

The hoses “are made of heat-resistant plastic. Some other companies use a cotton hose, like what the fire department uses. But after they’re used, those hoses need to be drained at a 45-degree angle for 72 hours; otherwise, they have a problem with rotting and corroding. The plastic hose I use is more lightweight and easier to manage, and right after you use it, you can roll it up and put it away. The pump comes with 100 feet of hose, but you can add more if needed. And they have quick-release tabs — you press a little lever, and you have a watertight connection.”

Schork offers a five-year warranty, “and a great price [$1795]. I take less of a profit margin so I can offer that. I’ve seen the wildfires affect everybody here — I offer a discount to anyone who was previously a fire victim. The pump comes fully assembled, and I can bring it to you, show you how to set it up, and give you a demonstration.”

My next call was to Jerry Tucker of Proline Fire Pumps (619-733-2200; homefirepumps.com). “I want to stress that it is extremely important that people evacuate when asked,” said Tucker. “Wet down your property and leave the pump by your water source so the fire department can use it. If they see our pump there, they’ll use it — they know it’s effective and reliable. In Rancho Santa Fe, they used it to save a gentleman’s house. Then they used it for the next two days straight, refilling fire trucks from his pool. A swimming pool holds as much water as 45 or 50 trucks.”

Tucker’s pump “was designed by a firefighter over a period of 15 years. It’ll put out 250 gallons a minute, but we run it at 50 gallons per minute through the nozzle. The average person can hold the hose, but it does take some effort. You can also decrease the engine speed and adjust the nozzle to make your water supply and gasoline last longer.”

Tucker notes that while pumps that have cast iron parts will corrode from contact with pool water, “pumps with plastic housings are not designed to take the pressure that builds up when the nozzle is closed, and they can crack when they get older.” His pump is “all aluminum, with one moving part. It’s very reliable.” He also uses “standard firefighter hoses — one and a half inches with a double jacket. It’s a rubber liner with two layers of canvas or polyester around it. We recommend draining them overnight on the pool deck after use. The rubber liner will not mildew or rot, but the canvas housing can retain water and get moldy. The most common pump we sell is the 6.5 horsepower [$2595]. We’ll bring it anywhere in Southern California and ship anywhere in the world. We offer a two-year warranty. We probably have 400 to 500 units out there — since the Witch Fire, we’ve sold 50 — and we’ve never had a failure.”

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Comments

Richard_Rider April 30, 2008 @ 4:29 p.m.

Sadly, the professional fire fighters flat out refuse to support any use of such pumps by residents DURING a fire, even in suburban areas where personal risk is truly nominal. Can you imagine -- buying a $2,000 fire fighting pumper, having a swimming pool full of water, and the police and fire department insist you leave if a fire draws near?

The truth is, you can tell the police to kiss off, and they'll back off eventually. But most citizens don't know that.

I know that in my Scripps Ranch community, attempts were made by CERT and the Scripps Ranch Civic Association to get such portable pumps made available by the city, but a recognition of the all-important firefighter opposition caused the project to die a quiet death.

The ONLY solution our ff's will accept is more full-time professional union ff's -- for a problem that comes up once every 4-10 years.

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