By Gord Schreiner
Needless to say, I love training and am always looking for ways to improve our training programs. For several years however, I have been concerned about the amount of drinking water my department uses during our many training sessions. You may be thinking; drinking water? I am not talking about bottled water. I am talking about water coming out of our hydrants. In my community, as in most urban communities, the water we get from our municipal hydrant system is our treated domestic drinking water supply. I will be watching a master stream operate and think to myself, “Wow, that is a lot of drinking water going down the drain.” It costs a lot of money to treat and deliver this water to our homes and businesses, and it seems wrong to let it go to waste.
Not only does my department train aggressively by using a lot of water, but we also operate a fire training centre that uses a significant amount of water. I figured we should do our part to conserve our water; doing so would also save money.
My team and I put our heads together to come up with a practical solution; recycle the domestic water we use for training. In addition, we decided to capture rain water for use in our training centre. It is expected that we will save more than one million litres of drinking water per year with these methods in place. The modest project was funded by the Town of Comox and the Comox Firefighters Association, and we also received some material donations.
The system itself is very simple. We capture the run-off in our training centre and store the water in an underground 20,000 storage tank (approximately 30-feet by 10-feet by 10-feet). When needed, we pump (using a small gas-powered pump) the screened water at up to 130 pounds per square inch, directly back into fire hoses used for firefighter training or directly into a fire engine (at lower pressure). The water is constantly reused, though we lose some to evaporation, and some gets sprayed outside the training area. However by capturing rainwater from the hard surfaces in our training centre, and from a couple of the roofs of training buildings, we have more than enough to keep our tank full. Any surplus water goes back into the traditional storm drain system.
We also use this system to re-fill our fire engines when they return empty from incidents, again reducing our use of drinking water. We have not elimated the use of hydrants altogether in our training centre, as of course, using hydrants is a vital training component, but we have significantly minimized the water we use from them. Many times we will hit the hydrant and then convert to our recycled water system. One of many benefits to this system is that during water restriction periods (typically summer months) we do not have to dial down our training as we are simply reusing the water. We also use the stored water for washing down the training area after its use. Another benefit is that we no longer use a full-size engine to supply our fire hose during day-long live fire programs, reducing wear and tear on the engines and not tying up an engine for a full day. Furthermore, if for some reason our municipal water system is not working, we know we have a large water supply to re-fill our trucks.
Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs.
Fire departments, like everyone else must do their parts to reduce, reuse and recycle. You can see more about our recycling efforts on our department website,
I truly believe that we, the fire service, have an obligation to do our part in reducing our environmental impact. In fact, I believe we should play a leadership role in our communities in this area by following good recycling practices in our stations when using water and other products. Today’s successful fire departments need to constantly think outside the box and look for ways to improve their services without increasing operating costs.
Fire departments train to save lives, let’s also train firefighters to help save our environment.
Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire