by Dave Preston
It could have made a difference in 2003.
During the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, there were times, especially at night, when firefighters had to back off from the raging inferno. Equipment was moved or simply sat idle, while the fire raged. The W.A.S.P. could have made a difference.
W.A.S.P is an acronym for Wildfire Automated Suppression and Protection and it was invented by an experienced firefighter from Peachland.
Darrell Pyke, who has 16 years experience logging and working on wildfires in B.C. and Alberta, got the idea a few years ago.
“I was on fire duty in the bush, fighting a wildfire,” said Pyke. “I saw a real need for equipment we could deploy quickly that would put a lot of water on the ground quickly and have a remote starter.”
Pyke made a prototype in Grande Prairie three years ago and the Alberta government immediately showed an interest. Last month, Pyke unveiled W.A.S.P. to the public, including Okanagan politicians and firefighters, in Peachland.
On Wednesday, Pyke demonstrated the W.A.S.P. for MP Dan Albas and others at Rose Valley Elementary School in West Kelowna.
W.A.S.P. is a fully contained wildfire suppression and protection system that sits on a trailer that can be towed by a three-quarter-ton truck.
While forestry crews have access to sprinkler systems that can be set up to protect structures from wildfires, W.A.S.P. comes with some features that Pyke said aren’t found on traditional systems.
Typical sprinkler systems use a gas pump located by a water supply. The pump sends water through hoses to sprinklers, which run all the time. The pumps can run for about three to four hours before someone has to refuel them.
W.A.S.P. uses an electrical control system powered by a diesel generator. It can be hooked up to a fire hydrant or an electric pump can be located near a water source. The electric pump doesn’t turn on until W.A.S.P.’s control system tells it to and the control system can be told to turn on from a computer or a cell phone anywhere on the planet.
As Pyke described the features of W.A.S.P. Wednesday, an assistant called Pyke’s wife. Remotely, using a laptop, she sent a signal to the W.A.S.P. sitting in the parking lot of Rose Valley Elementary School, through the Iridium satellite system. W.A.S.P. turned on, as commanded.
“My wife just started the system from her laptop back in the office,” said Pyke. “If this was an actual evacuated situation, you would see the lines fill up and the sprinkler heads start.”
W.A.S.P. comes with thousands of feet of hose and dozens of agricultural grade sprinkler heads. Firefighters can deploy the unit, set up the hoses and sprinklers, hook the unit up to a water source and simply walk away, knowing they can turn it on from anywhere, at any time, with nothing more than a cell phone.
The unit comes with a 2,400 gallon water tank that can be replenished from a hydrant, a lake, a creek or a swimming pool. W.A.S.P. can pump up to 320 gallons per minute.
One risk to traditional sprinkler units is that they are often simply left on and that can run down water supplies and flood basements of homes being protected, according to Pyke. W.A.S.P. can be programmed to turn on at a certain time or at intervals, for a specified length of time, then shut off again.
W.A.S.P. can also be used for another purpose. Onboard is a 20,000 watt diesel generator that can run for 24 hours per day for almost three days on one tank full of diesel. That means, in an emergency situation, while the unit is not being used to protect structures from wildfire, it can be used to provide a lot of electricity.
Pyke’s invention comes with a foam tank that firefighters may want to use to mix firefighting foam with water. It also had attachments for regular fire hoses, so firefighters can hook up hoses and walk into the bush to deal with hot spots.
On Wednesday, four fighters from West Kelowna Fire Rescue set up about 700 feet of hose and 32 sprinkler heads in about 50 minutes. That was enough to protect the back side of the school and a significant sized buffer in the forest behind the school.
Fully deployed, W.A.S.P. can protect an area almost four football fields in size.
W.A.S.P. is manufactured in West Kelowna and comes with a price tag of about $150,000. Pyke noted that units can be purchased by a municipality, by provincial forest services or shared on a regional basis. The owner can also rent them out to other places in need.
“Two things I like,” said Darren Lee, assistant West Kelowna fire chief. “They incorporated the ability to automatically fill it and automatically start it.”
Pyke said he would be demonstrating W.A.S.P. Friday in Kamloops for MLA Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and various representatives from the Wildfire Protection Branch of the B.C. Forest Service.