EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — A team of Eglin firefighters approach a burning dormitory with Airmen trapped inside. They aim the nozzle and begin to spray the fire. The flow of water is too weak to overcome the flames. They scramble to adjust and solve the problem of how to battle the blaze all while people still need to be saved.
This could’ve been a likely real scenario the base’s fire department faced had it not been for an Eglin innovation project’s secondary benefits. Those discovered benefits created a ripple effect across the Air Force’s fire departments and could lead to change throughout.
In 2019, Eglin’s fire department submitted an Idea request for funds to purchase a Draft Commander. It is a mobile testing device that completes performance checks on fire trucks, pumps, hoses and nozzles. The tests ensure the fire equipment meets National Fire Protection Association standards.
The cost-benefit analysis of the Draft Commander made it an easy choice over costly contracted agencies performing the yearly inspections as well as the wear and tear of moving Eglin’s fire fleet around for testing, according to Senior Master Sgt. Walter Shutler, 96th Civil Engineer Squadron Deputy Fire Chief.
“We just knew there had to be a better way of doing these tests,” said the 20-year Air Force firefighter. “Also, our employees were missing out on valuable training by not performing the inspections themselves.”
The submission for the $135,000 project was funded immediately. Shutler and his team worked with the builder to customize their Draft Commander to accomplish everything they needed.
Approximately a year after receiving the device, Eglin firefighters tested their nozzles. Of the fire department’s 99 nozzles, 80% failed to meet the required minimum water flow rates of 50 gallons per minute.
“This was a huge shock to us,” said Shutler. “If we were on a scene and we couldn’t get that correct water flow and someone lost their life because of it… it would be our fault.”
Shutler and the fire department moved quickly to eliminate the variables that could cause the nozzle water flow issues. It was determined, that with extended use, certain nozzles would wear down quickly. The fire department purchased a new brand of nozzles and they easily passed the inspection exceeding the required water flow requirement.
During this time of discovery, the larger issue occurred to Shutler.
“Everywhere I’ve been during my Air Force career, we’ve used those same nozzles,” he said about the potential of thousands of nozzles across the Air Force not being up to code.
The fire department put together a purchase plan to upgrade all of the worn-out nozzles. Fire department leadership also reached out to other fire stations and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center to inform them of the potential problem.
“Without the Draft Commander, we may never have known about this,” said Shutler. “It’s potentially a life-saver.”
Shutler said the estimates were a three-year return on the $135,000 investment, prior to the nozzle issue discovery. The potential life savings both at Eglin and possibly across the Air Force could put the cost at priceless.
Story by Samuel King Jr.