A company is launching a social media campaign today, asking for donations to help them develop an improved fire shelter, a pup tent like enclosure that can serve as a last resort for wildland firefighters entrapped by fire.
James Moseley, founder and CEO of SunSeeker, hopes to raise $150,000 through Indiegogo, according to a press release, to build shelters with a ceramic fiber material he licensed from NASA. For the last six months he has had a campaign on Gofundme where $15,000 of his $150,000 goal has been raised.
“While previous models have been kept in a bag and were designed to be removed by hand, the Fire Blanket will be worn as a backpack, and can be deployed like a wingsuit”, Mr. Moseley said. “The packing and deploying mechanisms are being designed by Rigging Innovations, the leaders in wingsuit development.”
The existing fire shelters used by the land management agencies in the United States are made from silica cloth and aluminum foil sewed together with quartz and fiberglass thread. The problem with these materials is that quartz thread becomes brittle and can break at 2,000°F, aluminum foil will melt at 1,220°F, and silica cloth also becomes brittle at 2,000°F, according to data in the Yarnell Fire investigation report, the fire on which 19 firefighters were killed after deploying their fire shelters. The outer foil shells were 95 to 100 percent burned away on 17 of the 19 shelters, while the foil on the other two was 80 percent burned away. The heat-resistant quartz and fiberglass thread failed in some areas on most of the shelters, causing some of the seams to separate, allowing super-heated gasses to enter. The failure of the seams and the brittle silica cloth found in some areas indicates that the temperature of the fire was over 2,000°F, hotter than many fires.
Mr. Moseley’s press release announcing the social media campaign said his shelter “can withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, will outperform the current shelters used by our nation’s firefighters by three times”.
However, on his website (http://sunseekerfireblanket.com/) and Facebook page, he writes:
Utilizing NASA technology, we will develop a fire shelter that will give fire fighters over 2500°F degrees of protection!
On Mr. Moseley’s Gofundme page, he said:
We’ve collaborated closely with individuals that work with NASA and the National Forestry Service to develop a product with better fire protection than what it currently available, with our ultimate goal being that this product helps save lives.
There is no “National Forestry Service” in the United States. Mr. Moseley is probably referring to the U.S. Forest Service.
We first wrote about Mr. Mosely’s efforts in November of 2013 when he started asking for money.
A better fire shelter is needed. We hope that Mr. Moseley or someone else can come up with a better design that meets the requirements. In May of this year the U.S. Forest Service’s Washington office announced that they directed their Technology and Development Center to conduct a three-year review of the fire shelter system, which includes the fire shelter, fireline pack, practice shelters, and training. The Forest Service said the review “had been scheduled to begin in 2015, but due to factors both internally and externally, the WO-FAM requested this review process start in 2014.”
The finished product and everything that goes into it has to be high temperature resistant, foldable into a small space, easy to quickly deploy, durable enough to be carried by firefighters for years, affordable, and not too heavy.
Some will say that firefighters should avoid a situation where a fire shelter, a last resort, is needed. Of course that is true, and no firefighter should DEPEND on a shelter to save their lives. And, no firefighter should DEPEND on aircraft to serve as a lookout, drop life-saving water or retardant, or extricate them before an entrapment or at the end of a shift. But, firefighters, in spite of their best intentions, training, and wildland firefighting experience, sometimes find themselves in situations where they need a fire shelter.
That is the reality. We should take steps to improve their chances of survival.