5th Symposium on Fire and Forest Meteorology and the 2nd International Wildland Fire Ecology and Fire Management Congress

Wednesday, 19 November 2003: 4:30 PM
Fire Gels- breakthrough technology for structure protection in the WUI
John B. Bartlett, Barricade International, Inc., Hobe Sound, FL
Fire-blocking gel, a new weapon in the war on wildfires, is being hailed by firefighters, property owners, scientists and government officials as one of the most important developments in fire fighting history. This new technology enables professional firefighters as well as property owners to extinguish fires and to protect buildings and other valuable assets in a way that has never before been possible.

The first fire-blocking gel was developed by a team of firefighters and chemists led by veteran Florida firefighter John Bartlett after he discovered that a used disposable baby diaper did not burn in a routine trash fire. These diapers contain superabsorbent polymers that can soak up and hold many times their weight in water. It is this characteristic that kept the diaper from burning and it is this same characteristic that now enables fire-blocking gel to save homes and property that would otherwise be destroyed by fire.

This new fire fighting technology represents a major paradigm shift, which takes us beyond traditional foam capabilities. Simply put, foams are soap or surfactants that form bubbles. These air bubbles quickly burst when exposed to heat. Comparatively, fire-blocking gel’s superabsorbent chemicals act like miniature sponges, absorbing and holding large amounts of water. These wet sponges layer themselves one on top of another forming a long lasting, thermal protective gel coating. In order to penetrate this coating, the heat must boil the water out of the top layer before it can be transferred to the layer beneath. This gel coating provides an amazing level of protection against radiant heat, direct flame impingement, flying brands and burning embers. The gel can be applied to structures, vehicles, fuel tanks, propane cylinders or any object exposed to the effects of a fire.

Fire blocking gel is easy to apply using many of the standard methods that are commonly used in the fire service. Foam inductors, standard hoses and nozzles and large capacity deck guns and master stream devices can all be used successfully with gel. There are also commercially available systems that have been specifically engineered to apply gels. Helicopters and fixed wing airplanes can apply gel during airdrop operations creating effective firebreaks.

Another important factor about fire-blocking gel is that, for the first time, homeowners can take effective action to protect their homes and possessions from devastating wild land fires. Fire-blocking gel can be applied using a simple venturi eductor and a standard garden hose. This user-friendly unit allows the resident to safely apply a long lasting coating, well in advance of an approaching wildland fire. This ability to protect their own home prior to evacuation from an endangered neighborhood will greatly reduce losses at a time when fire department resources may be stretched to the limit.

This new firefighting tool rose to international prominence when it was tested and proved in the most severe firestorm conditions in Florida’s history. Fire-blocking gel was applied to some of the most severely threatened homes as the fires raced towards the community of Palm Coast in July 1998. Every one of these gel-treated homes stood completely undamaged after the firestorm passed. Due to these historic results, the gel firefighters were invited to tour the area with then-Governor Lawton Chiles and Florida State Fire Marshall Bill Nelson who witnessed the incredible scenes of the gel-coated houses standing tall in the middle of the fire-ravaged landscape.

Since its introduction, fire-blocking gel has been credited with saving many homes and other properties including a large lumber mill valued at over sixty million dollars in Canada. The City of Los Angeles Fire Department has equipped every engine with gel and has credited its use to saving 12 homes from a brush fire in Tujunga Canyon. Many homes were saved in Montana in 2000, in Wyoming during the Green Knoll fire in 2001 and in the Hayman fire in Colorado in 2002. In June of 2003, firefighters in South Dakota used fire-blocking gel to stop the spread of a fast moving fire in historic Keystone near Mount Rushmore. Fire Chief Paul Smith of the Rockerville Fire Department reports that this fire, which started in a restaurant, had already destroyed nine businesses and was threatening to consume many more buildings in the congested town. Firefighters went on the offensive, spraying and saving the exposed buildings with the fire-blocking gel.

Fire-blocking gel has been featured on ABC World News Tonight, CBS This Morning, CNN, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Dateline NBC, RealTV and many local stations throughout the country. The fire-blocking gel success story has also been featured in Associated Press wire service stories, People Magazine, numerous fire service and industrial trade journals, internationally syndicated radio programs, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Newsletter, the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) Manual on Wildland Firefighting, on the Internet at CNN Interactive, MSNBC and Firehouse and National Fire and Rescue Web sites.

Fire-blocking gel with its unique thermal protective properties, adhesion characteristics and coating ability will save hundreds of homes each year that would otherwise be destroyed in wildfires. Fire-blocking gel truly will revolutionize the fire fighting service.


“Fire-blocking gel is a giant evolutionary step for firefighters and property owners. It shields the house or tree from advancing fire. It denies a fire access. It’s remarkable. It works and it will save more homes and more money than you can count.” Dr. Hal Ellis, fire researcher

“Fire-blocking gel saved our home. Everyone, including many experienced firefighters, who has seen our house is amazed that the place did not burn to the ground. There was no damage to the house at all - even the vinyl eves were protected. It was as if the house had been sealed in a wet blanket, keeping it from burning and keeping the smoke and heat out.” Jim and Debbie Hodges, residents of Palm Coast, Florida

“Fire-blocking gel is a quantum leap in firefighting, this the best invention since the fire hose.” Dr. William Kramer, Deerfield (OH) Fire Chief and Fire Science Professor at the University of Cincinnati.

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