StopBad: Improving our environmental footprint
November 15, 2019 By Gord Schreiner
Our fire department is small, serving around 20,000 citizens, but we are always looking for ways to improve our environmental footprint. Our team trains a lot. For years we were concerned about the amount of drinking water our department used during our many training sessions. I am not talking about bottled water. I am talking about the water coming out of our hydrants.
In my community, as in most urban places, the water from our municipal hydrant system is our treated domestic drinking water. I used to watch master streams 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 water, and in doing so we could also save money.
My team and I put our heads together to come up with the practical solution of recycling the domestic water we use for training. In addition, we decided to capture rainwater for use in our training centre. We estimate that we will save more than 1 million litres of drinking water per year.
We can also use this system to refill our fire engines when they return empty from incidents. We have not eliminated the use of hydrants altogether in our training centre, as of course, they are a vital training component, but we have significantly minimized the water we use from them. We often hit the hydrant and then convert to our recycled water system.
One of the many benefits of 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 same water. We also use the stored water for washing down the training area after use. We no longer use a full-size engine to supply our fire hoses during day-long live fire programs. This reduces wear and tear on the engines and frees up an engine for a full day. If for some reason our municipal water system is not working, we have a large water supply to refill our trucks. In addition, we have issued refillable stainless steel water bottles to our firefighters and to our students at our training centre to reduce the use of plastic bottles.
We have also added two BullEx digital fire training panels and artificial smoke generators to our training centre. This reduces the amount of real smoke we produce while improving the health and safety of our firefighters. The digital fires and smoke look very realistic and we now incorporate them into all of our regular training. This has made a significant difference in the smoke we generate and our instructors appreciate these safety precautions for themselves and their students.
We also recently added a vehicle fire suppression blanket to our rigs. In some cases, we can cover a vehicle on fire with this blanket, starving it of oxygen and reducing the smoke almost immediately. Also reducing contaminates running down the catch basins. Yes, we still wear SCBA and pull hose lines. This is just another example of how our industry is changing for the better.
Other things we have done include:
- Converting to LED lighting in many areas of the station
- Occupancy sensors on lights in most rooms in the station
- Adding solar power lights in our training centre
- Reducing fire engine run time
- Using smaller response vehicles when possible
- Planting our own fire station garden which is irrigated by our captured rainwater
- Installing mini-splits heat exchangers and disconnecting baseboard heat
- Adding battery operated power tools and fans
- Increasing the recycling of batteries, smoke alarms, etc.
The fire service should be a community leader in green initiatives. Fire departments train to save lives, let’s also train firefighters to help save our environment. You can see more about our recycling efforts on our department website at comoxfirerescue.org.
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. He has delivered cost effective training on a variety of subjects all over Canada to hundreds of departments and is available to deliver training in your area. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.
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