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Gel helps firefighters fight more fire with less equipment

One fire extinguisher full of gel does the work of six or eight regular fire extinguishers

By Emily Roach
The Palm Beach Post

JUPITER, Fla. — Don’t try this at home: Peter Cordani’s favorite way to show off his invention is to douse his arm in FireIce and try to char it with a blow torch.

Fortunately for him, FireIce is an effective water enhancer that when sprayed on an object takes the heat and oxygen out of the flames, as Cordani explains it.

Cordani invented FireIce 10 years ago, then partnered with GelTech five years ago to bring it to the market. After getting approved this year by the U.S. Forestry Service for it’s Quality Products List, FireIce can be used by federal agencies that fight wildland fires and fire departments through the nation.

“In a firefighter situation, you can put this in a firetruck, brush truck, helicopter or aircraft,” Cordani said.

FireIce allows fire departments to fight more fire with less equipment, GelTech President Joe Ingarra said. “This technology is where firefighting is going.”

The product comes as a powder, and by mixing it with water, it turns into a gel that is a “force multiplier,” Cordani said. That means one fire extinguisher full of gel does the work of six or eight regular fire extinguishers. If your car was on fire, just 21/2 gallons of FireIce could put it out, versus 200 to 700 gallons of water, Ingarra said.

It washes off with water and is non-toxic and non-corrosive.

“Environmental impact was the number one concern to GelTech and the team,” Cordani said.

Cordani and Ingarra also want to sell FireIce directly to homeowners in the United States and have developed a home defense unit with a pressure washer and wand to apply the gel. They said they’re seeing a good market for it out West with the yearly threat of wild fires.

“When you’re coating your home, you want to coat everything around the home — bushes, grass. It will not harm it,” Cordani said. “That’s really something special.”

Achieving the Forestry Service approval was a “gold badge” Ingarra said.

The process takes about two years, and companies spend $70,000 to $80,000 on the testing, said Shirley Zylstra of the Wildland Fire Chemical Systems’ Missoula Technology & Development Center.

Companies are usually pretty confident in their product before they submit it for testing, because of the commitment of money and time, Zylstra said. She’s a project leader and helps evaluate the chemicals.

FireIce has a Vaseline-like consistency and is the type of chemical more commonly used in trucks and tanks by individual fire departments than for aerial firefighting, she said. That red stuff the Forestry Service drops from airplanes is a different type of chemical.

The Quality Products List is officially for the Forestry Service and other federal agencies that fight wildland fires, Zylstra said, but many state and local fire agencies also use the federal list because of the strict testing.

Testing includes toxicity tests — aquatic and mammalian — as well as stability tests, combustion retarding tests and risk assessment of all the chemicals used. The product is also tested for stability by being left outside in Missoula, Mont., and California for a year, Zylstra said.

GelTech’s other main product is Soil2O, a water enhancer for plants that holds water in the soil and slowly releases it to plant roots.

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