By Ben Sowers, COO, Frontline Wildfire Defense Systems
In conversations with homeowners, builders, and insurance and fire authorities, I hear three key questions. Whether I’m speaking with representatives at CalFire, FireSafe, FEMA or local fire chiefs, the three critical questions are:
How do you activate it?
When I explain how our wildfire defense system accounts for each, people go from uncertain to enthusiastic about how these systems can be a missing link in protecting our homes against embers.
Being prepared to evacuate is essential. Fire authorities don’t want residents running around their property and climbing up on a roof with a hose to wet everything down. They also don’t want systems running endlessly and wasting water.
Remote activation has the obvious benefit of letting you activate your system when you’re at work or traveling. (After all, peak wildfire season coincides with peak summer and fall travel.) But it also saves valuable time when you can evacuate quickly, press a button on your phone, and know that all combustible fuels on your home and landscape are effectively covered.
In addition to remote activation, Frontline’s app lets you monitor your home in relation to the latest fire location and turn off the system when it’s not needed. This gives you the control to operate your system while you’re away from home, while only using the minimum necessary amount of water and foam.
Frontline’s Control Box, which receives the activation signal and manages the system’s cycles, communicates over WiFi, cell and satellite networks, depending on availability of service.
When fire and emergency response authorities learn that our system is satellite-enabled, they become increasingly confident of its ability to work during a chaotic wildfire situation.
After satellite-enabled, remote activation, the next big question concerns water and electricity requirements. There are typically two parts to this question:
The Control Box needs power to receive activation signals and operate the system’s cycle run times. It’s plugged into the wall and has a built-in battery in case power is down.
The rest of the system runs on water pressure from municipal, well or backup water sources. When available, the Frontline system will be connected into the main waterline and have a backup drafting kit connected to a pool or storage tank. If the main waterline pressure drops too low, the system automatically pulls from the backup source.
Whenever we connect to a well, pool or storage tank, we recommend that backup power is provided to the pump. Given planned outages, many customers are already solving for backup power with generators or solar plus battery solutions.
An important part of our consultation is evaluating the water sources. For example, if you’re on municipal water, is there backup power to the pumps or are you on a gravity-fed tank system?
Sprinkler systems that run continuously and cannot be turned off remotely waste water when it’s needed most.
We’ve designed our Control Box to operate the system in short cycles, providing just enough water and foam to hydrate the combustible fuels. A typical zone will be on for 5 minutes then off for 20 minutes, until the system is deactivated. This water use is small relative to a home and community’s water supply for irrigation and domestic water uses.
When managed responsibly, a network of intelligent wildfire defense systems will be a valuable resource that complements local and state fire equipment and personnel.
Fire authorities and volunteers at FireSafe Councils do not want people thinking they can install a wildfire defense system and skip all the foundational and cost-effective mitigation techniques.
Wildfire defense systems do not replace home hardening, defensible space and emergency preparedness. They are a complementary and effective layer of protection, because embers have a way of finding a weakness in your home’s defense.
According to the National Fire Protection Association and Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety Fact Sheet, “Post-fire assessments have shown exterior sprinkler systems can be effective in helping a home survive a wildfire.”
CoreLogic estimates that wildfire defense systems reduce risk by 50% — right up there with the 59% risk reduction associated with Class A roofs. The table below shows how layering mitigation techniques (on a baseline wood frame house with an unrated roof) can drastically reduce your risk.
Similarly, Frontline advises homeowners to take a holistic approach to preparing for wildfire. Our team taps into extensive knowledge of wildland and structural firefighting from former careers in fire services and landscape ecology and architecture. We also point our customers to the outstanding local resources and experts at the local fire department or FireSafe Councils.
The three questions answered above led us to develop the Frontline Wildfire Defense System with three required capabilities:
With these capabilities in mind, the overarching question is, Are they effective? For more perspectives and results, please check out our post, “A Promising Track Record for Wildfire Defense Systems.”
Ben Sowers, COO at Frontline
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-990-5882.