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The Maneuver Conference is an annual symposium that explores best practices and emerging technologies to better prepare todays Soldier for the fight. Next week, Speer Operational Technologies will offer demonstrations of a product many on Fort Benning, including retired Sgt. 1st Class Chris Crossley, hope will find its way downrange for fire suppression. The product is called Cold Fire.
Crossley, former Stryker subject matter expert for the Office of the Chief of Infantry, first learned about Cold Fire during the 2011 conference from a former battle buddy and Special Forces medic who founded the company, named for a fallen Soldier.
After I saw the demonstration, I thought, This could put out a Stryker tire fire, he said. Now the military program manager for Speer, Crossley shares with Army leaders how Cold Fire could save lives on the battlefield.
WHAT IS IT?
Cold Fire is a plant-based substance that can put out fires involving flammable metals, liquids, gases and solids. Examples include magnesium, gasoline, alcohol, wood and rubber. The only fire it cant suppress is electrical. To be effective against electrical fires, power must be turned off, at which point the blaze would become a regular combustible fire.
The fire-suppression agent, considered a staple in the racing industry though never used in military applications, has been around for more than a decade. It is rated by the National Fire Protection Association as nontoxic when evaluated on three factors: health, flammability and reactivity.
IS IT SAFE?
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency approved Cold Fire as a flooding agent, which can be sprayed in an enclosed, occupied space.
This now gives us the ability to put Cold Fire systems in military vehicles to suppress fires without any of the associated health hazards, said Crossley, who has had the substance in his eyes and mouth with no ill effect. (Cold Fire) doesnt hurt Soldiers. It doesnt leave any visible residue, so if this stuff goes off in a vehicle prematurely, youre not going to be covered in dust; youre not going to be choking. Youre going to be a little wet and its going to dry.
Its also environmentally friendly. The EPAs Significant New Alternatives Policy Program evaluates substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals, such as Halon 1301. The Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to publish a list of green alternatives, which Cold Fire is listed among. The list of fire-suppression flooding agents is online at www.epa.gov/ozone/snap/fire/lists/flood.html.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
It removes the thermal properties from anything it touches, Crossley said. In fire, you have to have fuel, oxygen, heat, and then you have to have a chemical reaction between those three in order to produce flame. What Cold Fire does is it removes all three simultaneously. So it coats the surface, preventing the oxygen from being able to exchange with the fuel. It also cools the surface, so that prevents the reactivity of the heat turning into fire. And it encapsulates the fuel source, keeping the heat and the oxygen away from it.
When sprayed on a object, Cold Fire puts out flames and cools the surface, protecting it for about 45 seconds, he said.
Once contents of a container are used, it can be refilled and re-pressurized if needed by the Soldier while on a mission.
WHERE DOES IT WORK?
With frequent use of IEDs by the enemy, quick and effective fire suppression is essential, said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven McClaflin, former Infantry School command sergeant major.
In Iraq in 2009, McClaflin said, he had a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle that encountered an IED and three Soldiers were trapped in the back. Another Soldier used all the dry chemical fire extinguisher in the patrol to suppress the fire to rescue the three inside. It kept reigniting, McClaflin said, but on the Soldiers third attempt, he was able to jump through the flames and free his trapped battle buddies.
He suffered some burns himself, McClaflin said, but I think (with) a system similar to what Cold Fire is, I dont think he would have had that problem of it reigniting. And the number of fire extinguishers he used may have potentially suppressed the fire and prevented the vehicle from being a catastrophic loss.
Crossley knows of many similar experiences.
When we lost a truck in Iraq in 2006, we used seven dry chemical fire extinguishers, and I dont know how many bottles of water they threw on it, and then they just sat there and watched it burn for 12 hours until it was cool enough to load on a truck and haul back for scrap, he said. That was just an up-armored Humvee.
Stryker fires, caused when the magnesium in the hub of the tire ignites, can be even harder to put out. Crossley said Cold Fire puts out the blaze by cooling the flammable magnesium something chemical fire systems cant do.
Youre not going to put out a tire fire with a dry chemical extinguisher, McClaflin said. Youll run out of chemical before you ever get it out, and it doesnt cool it enough to keep it from combusting.
A Stryker vehicle costs about $3 million, and there are 387 in a Stryker brigade. Crossley said one of the more cost-effective ways to get Cold Fire fielded would be to include it as part of the vehicle in a Fire Rescue Kit that features the spray as well as other firefighting and burn-treatment products.
You could put a Fire Rescue Kit in every single Stryker vehicle in that brigade, and it would be about two-thirds of the cost to replace one you lost to fire, he said. You spend about $1.8 million and you protect an entire fleet, plus all the equipment thats in it.
For more information on Cold Fire or Speer, visit http://speeroptech.com. For more about the Significant New Alternatives Policy, go to www.epa.gov/ozone/snap.