Dunsmuir Fire Department's ‘10’ is a 10

Richard DuPertuis
Just before training begins Aug. 5, 2010, assistant Fire Chief Gene Meyer checks the control panel, and notes that 10 has stopped taking on water from the water tender parked alongside. This was part of the auto fill feature on the new engine, which regulated nozzle pressure to a safe, consistent 100 psi, perfect for hydrants in Dunsmuir notorious for dangerously-high pressures.

Blood pressures for Dunsmuir’s firefighters rose Thursday, not so much from the stress of facing flames, but from excitement over the arrival of their new state-of-the-art fire engine.

At the station, Fire Captain Adam Heilman took special care washing the Pierce Contender, Type 1 engine, known in fire parlance as an E-810, or more affectionately “10.”

He then spent half an hour wiping every piece of chrome that bore a smudge, ensuring 10 would be looking good on its maiden mission at the Mt. Shasta fire training center.

For the exercise that evening, firefighters would enter the burn box. Built from two steel railroad cars lying end to end and capped by a framework supporting a tar paper roof, the burn box provided a controlled environment where firefighters could practice handling dangerous interior conditions found in the field on real fire calls.

Normally it was used only once or twice a year, and usually in the fall or winter months, when the sight of smoke would not alarm the populace as much as in the dry summer. But this year they used it earlier. “We decided to see what effect CAF would have on fire,” said Dunsmuir fire chief Dan Padilla, referring to the higher pump rate of compressed air foam 10 had over the engine it was replacing.

Assistant fire chief Gene Meyer explained some of the other advantages that came with the new vehicle. “The old engine could pump 1,250 gpm [gallons per minute],” he said. “The new one can do 1,500 gpm.” He said the purchase upgraded the engine's drive capability from two-wheel to four-wheel, and cab capacity increased from five to six men. “And it has auto fill, which the old one doesn't have.”

Meyer described auto fill as a pressure control feature. It buffers the water pressure delivered to the hose, no matter how high the pressure of the water feed source. “It never allows the high hydro pressure to come through the pump at a dangerous pressure,” he said. “Dunsmuir has some high-pressure hydrants, some up to 160 psi.” Auto fill holds the pressure going to the nozzle down to a safe 100 psi.

Chief Padilla said this new addition to Dunsmuir's firefighting capability cost $396,000. The funds came from the Dunsmuir Fire Protection District, through an assessment on residential and commercial properties in areas outside Dunsmuir city limits. Though purchased by an outside agency, 10 is seen as the collective property of Castella, Dunsmuir and Mt. Shasta fire departments.

“We share equipment,” said emergency medical services officer Joe Hatten. He was to join three others to form an interior assault team to confront the inferno in the burn box.

But first, 10’s hose was passed around among the two dozen firefighters who had arrived for training. They took turns hefting the hose and testing nozzle settings, shooting a stream of compressed air foam into nearby trees or hitting a wall outside the burn box with a wider, shorter spray. When members of Hatten's team took their turns, they practiced outside what they would be doing inside, moving as a unit retreating back from, or forward into, fire.

With 10 drawing water from the yellow water tender parked alongside and delivering it to the hose attached to its front bumper, Hatten's team met just outside the burn box with fire safety officer Jerry Cook and checked their gear before entering through a steel door, from which belched a stream of black smoke.

Afterward Hatten reported, “It was very dark, smoky and hot. We couldn't see the flames right away.” When they did spot the fire and hit it with compressed air foam, the resulting steam again blocked their vision. Hatten, a firefighting veteran, had looked up. “I could see trails of flames licking the ceiling,” he said. He described these conditions as the precursor to rollover, the ignition of flammable gases collected at the ceiling and burning overhead in a wide tongue of fire. The fuel for this training had been set up to create just that.

With 10 delivering even pressure at the nozzle, they sprayed the fire with short bursts and extinguished it quickly, but not too quickly. “If you just pour water on, all that heat at the ceiling comes down and will it burn you,” Hatten said. They safely put out the fire and emerged from the burn box uninjured.

Looking back, Padilla said he was pleased by the results. “It exceeded all expectations,” he said of his new engine’s performance. Padilla said he expects 10 to serve Dunsmuir for two or three decades. The old engine will be sold, with the money going back to the Fire Protection District.

Fresh out of the burn box, veteran firefighter Joe Hatten, above asks to his team if they had noticed while in it trails of fire on the ceiling. He called this the precursor to rollover which, uncontained, could have raised interior temperatures to over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. They said that they had noticed and quickly extinguished the fire.