IFSJ Exclusive: Wildland firefighting with Vallfirest

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Vallfirest looks at the changing face of wildland firefighting and how its Tactical Unit a responds to new lessons learned

Just one month into the year 2023, fires are continuing to provide new lessons—lessons that we must continue learning. In this case in particular, we are referring to the simultaneous large forest fires in Chile where the emergency climax extended for more than a week and more than 300,000 hectares have been affected with entire neighborhoods burnt down and thousands wounded with some even dead.

Given the magnitude and complexity, it is an episode that led to the mobilisation of specialists and operational forces from beyond the country’s and even the continent’s borders.

A Global Problem

This is not a single episode or something that sporadically occurs. In 2017, Chile already witnessed the occurrence of multiple fires with extreme and sixth-generation behaviors such as the one at Las Máquinas. There has also been simultaneity in the northeast of Argentina (2022, 2023) as well as extreme events, such as in La Pampa (2018) and Patagonia (2021); and in Bolivia, no one can forget the Roboré fire with one of the fastest spreads seen thus far (2019).

This is not something that only happens in Latin America as it is recurrently seen on the west coast of the United States. These fires have also been seen in Australia (2020), in Siberia, in the Mediterranean Arc countries affected by the dust cloud advection from the Sahara Desert in 2021, and throughout Europe in general following heatwaves, prolonged periods of drought and dry lightning storms.

Fires of this magnitude are not typical of a specific ecosystem or climate, but rather viewed as a worldwide disturbance occurring more and more often and conquering more and more regions across the planet.

Global Knowledge

The worst episodes have revealed the need for more resources beyond those of the affected state, like in Chile, as already mentioned, or in France which activated the European civil protection mechanism (RescEU) last summer, receiving help from Germany, Greece, Poland, Romania and Austria.

However, the truth is that there are countries for which this current reality is relatively new and the knowledge of or possible experiences involving emergency management are also new. Hence, the importance of international cooperation, which allows everyone to grow by nourishing and learning from the diversity of situations and local knowledge.

At Vallfirest, we are aware of this importance and put it into practice by actively working with leaders from around the world and experts in different subject areas: analysts, operational forces and sector professionals who transmit their needs and experiences in the field.

We firmly believe that this is one thing that makes us stand out above other manufacturers. We closely follow fire news, analysing what is happening on the ground internally, and actively surveying and listening to the professionals who test our products before launching them on the market.

We implement the improvements they recommend and never consider anything finalised because this constant feedback encourages us to continue searching for innovative solutions to the ever-changing and increasingly challenging reality for everyone.

Innovating how we work on and think about fires

In recent years, we have observed a real jump in behavior: unprecedented dry periods, increased average temperatures, pyro phenomena or firestorms, wildland fires capable of modifying the environment while destroying ecosystems and the populations within them. The rules of the game have changed.

Fires can no longer be faced by increasing resources because more often than not, they simply exceed the extinguishing capabilities. Just to give an example, a direct attack with a water line is considered neither safe nor effective from the ground when the height of the flame exceeds three meters; and five meters when using aerial means.

This is why we must move from the obsolete traditional methods of extinction to others requiring strategical thinking, the application of advanced maneuvers and the use of new equipment and tools that help services as a whole avoid collapse with the ability to respond to extreme situations, thereby guaranteeing the safety of their forces.

Any talk of extreme behavior must also refer to sudden changes in propagation speeds, directions of advance and the intensity of fires. Being able to anticipate these changes makes the difference between having to face an active front a few dozen meters wide and one that’s several kilometers wide. It can also make the difference in situations of life or death.

Tools alone can really do very little. The key lies in human resources having up-to-date knowledge and a developed capacity to read and analyse fire behavior, knowing when and where there is a window for action, and knowing which maneuvers should be deployed when the opportunity arises. But the other side of the coin is that it’s impossible to rapidly and decisively respond as required by these new types of emergencies without the right tools. 

A toolbox for this global nature: The Tactical Unit

Analysing the situation on a unit level within extinguishing services, the need to provide teams with greater independence becomes clear. This involves training that allows them to quickly analyse situations and, above all, make decisions all while gaining muscle when it comes to extinction.

And that’s how the Tactical Unit came about. It’s a multifunctional module designed to handle any type of vegetation fire emergency in any possible scenario that may be changing either because the vegetation or terrain makes work difficult, because resources are limited or because the fire becomes more violent.

The Tactical Unit is a revolutionary, unprecedented tool. It’s a fire truck and a toolbox with great off-road capability. This means remote areas will no longer be a problem. But beyond that, this module enables the use of many different maneuvers to adapt to a whole range of scenarios that may occur during a wildland fire from transporting the emergency robot Dronster, a Heliskid helitransportable defense system, portable fire pumps, extinguishing tools, PPE, self-protection equipment in addition to other firefighting accessories

Many may be familiar with situations where aerial means cannot be operated or where the fire front considerably progresses in just a matter of hours due to local wind conditions in addition to scenarios where changes in wind direction or any change in fire behavior can compromise a maneuver.

These are situations where having an emergency vehicle capable of reaching remote areas and enabling the best combination of maneuvers without all those tools together creating any limitations is decisive. In other words, having the possibility of deploying a Heliskid to lay a water line, using a Dronster, having hand tools to mechanically draw defense lines, and added to all this, using drip torches to apply technical fire.

The Tactical Unit is the futuristic solution we are offering for today’s needs. Our goal is to improve the responsiveness of extinguishing services, give crews the opportunity to anticipate and work safely and effectively, and adapt to each scenario and the potential variability with a range of high-performance tools that can be used alone or simultaneously. It is a logistics platform for working which combines advanced maneuvers all while multiplying the potential of extinguishing systems.

We are talking about frequent episodes like the one in Chile, which extend over time and take wildland firefighters to the limit as far as the physical and mental effort required. So, beyond the tools mentioned, no one must forget one key aspect which is safety, in addition to the possibility of transporting self-protection equipment with fireproof Xtreme Shelters, Xtreme-K breathing equipment for entrapment situations, fireproof curtains and self-protection lances.

Faced with a situation where fires are evolving, Vallfirest is revolutionising with an all-new generation of equipment designed for tomorrow’s fires.

This article was originally published in the March edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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