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Kila company touts benefits of water-enhancing gel

October 6, 2018

Local entrepreneur Travis Marsh believes he has a product that could change the future of wildfire fighting in Montana and other highly impacted states.

Project manager of E-Peak Fire Solutions based in Kila, Marsh and his father, company President Jim Marsh, carry and sell Firewall II, a water-enhancing gel produced in Indianapolis and created as an extinguishing agent for use on wildfires.

Water-enhancing gel differs from the bright red long-term retardants used to build indirect containment lines around fires in that it is most effectively used in direct attacks and can be dropped from buckets or sprayed from hoses in place of water.

According to Marsh, the concentrated compound acts as a water-thickening agent when mixed, creating a non-toxic gel that’s 99.75 percent water.

When applied directly to a blaze, the gel works by protecting plants from fire, including the needles and branches of trees.

While plain water, according to Marsh, might last around five minutes on a fire before evaporating, his gel reportedly coats both horizontal and vertical surfaces and takes around 30 minutes to an hour to evaporate.

Competing with a fire-fighting resource as readily available and cheap as water, however, presents a challenge when attempting to sell a more costly alternative, but according to Marsh, using a product proven to be more effective has the potential to save money in the long run.

“Yes, water is cheaper, but is it more efficient? That’s the question,” he said. “If you’re dropping water and it’s not working, what are you going to do?”

At 4,200 a day to rent his equipment, the product potentially could save agencies money by cutting down on time spent knocking down fires, equipment rental costs and retardant use and resource loss by enabling a more direct attack rather than waiting for a fire to reach containment lines.

In addition to his own truck, trailer, blender, water tank and 10,000 gallon dipping “pumpkins,” Marsh said he could also put the gel into a variety of fire equipment already onsite at a fire, including fire engines, hose lay and water buckets suspended by helicopters.

Marsh said he sees particular potential for his product in Glacier National Park.

A fertilizer-free, non-chemical option, Firewall II dissipates completely within three hours of application, Marsh said, and has passed fish toxicity studies by the U.S. Forest Service, leaving little to no impact on the environment in its wake.

Last year, Marsh demonstrated Firewall II on the Meyers Fire in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest through an Emergency Equipment Rental Agreement.

Though he felt the aircraft pilots and incident commander on that fire approved of his product, Marsh said he has not gotten another gig despite his continuous efforts. Marsh said he just needs more opportunities to prove it works.

Over the last two summers, the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting out of Colorado has conducted testing of similar gel products on wildfires in Colorado with the intent of analyzing just how affective they are.

According to Aerial Firefighting Specialist Dave Toelle, he and his team have been working with fire personnel to collect data and observe results of water-enhancing gels tested in the field on various fires.

“The educational aspects of it are still one of the things that’s kind of lagging behind,” Toelle said. “That’s really what we’re hoping to do is take the results of what we’re doing and compare them to results of other studies.”

Though Firewall II was not among the specific products tested, Toelle said that so far he has seen a lot of evidence that gel products do work.

Toelle said he forsaw a few problems with using gels, including a potential lack of available resources to work with the product and the required application of direct attack.

According to Toelle, in order to utilize gels, incident command teams need enough personnel and equipment on the ground to effective amounts into the field as well as conditions that allow crews to safely lead a direct attack on the blaze.

“We have got to come around to thinking about how we attack fires,” Toelle said. “If you have an opportunity to go direct, there sure is a lot of evidence supporting the use of water enhancers.”

Toelle also believes those responsible for managing fires and deciding what equipment, personnel and products to use have gotten comfortable using products that have been around longer and are often reluctant to change their methods.

“I think it’s sort of a tough barrier to break, to get over the hump to see it as more routine to get these products out,” Toelle said. “I think we’re starting to see more widespread use of these products on fire, and I think we just need to get to a point where it’s embraced more by incident management teams.”

Though Marsh said his team at E-Peak was about a month into the 2018 fire season before it was fully self-operating, he has spent the last several months approaching commanders on fires, trying to get his products into the field.

“If we’re legitimately trying to stop a fire, why wouldn’t you use new technology, new stuff that’s out there, the best thing for that?” he added.

Marsh said he plans to get a head-start next year and already anticipates attending an incident management meeting in the spring to discuss his business and product with those responsible for putting the fires out.

For more information about Firewall II or E-Peak Fire Solutions, visit https://epeakfiresolutions.com/.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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