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Berkeley Fire Dept. debuts new fire system

October 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
It has been 11 years since voters approved Measure Q, but the Berkeley Fire Department is ready to use a revolutionary system that can put water on major fires, even if hydrants go dry.

On Thursday, the department demonstrated its new Hytrans Fire System, which can suck 12,000 gallons of water per minute from the bay, and then pump it through hoses to a fire as far as six miles away. The system cost $4.7 million for the hardware, alone.

More than putting water on fires, the system can also pull water out of flooded areas.

"This technology is ideal for the topography of Berkeley," said Fire Chief Debra Pryor.

She noted that while this is the first such system in the United States, it has already worked successfully in Europe.

At the demonstration, fire crews submerged hydraulically driven line feed pumps into the Berkeley Marina. The pumps fed 12-inch lines through 1,200-horsepower, diesel powered pumps. Twin columns of water arced through the sky like white rainbows, and back down into the marina.

"Traffic control, when we start laying this stuff, is going to be the biggest headache," says David Orth from the Berkeley Fire Department.

The system lays down line or picks it up, by driving a truck in a straight line. On University Avenue, for instance, the fire department would place that line right in the middle.

Several rank-and-file firefighters remained skeptical of the new system. The fire department claims it will need only five men to deploy water across city streets to fires two miles away, within 30 minutes.

"Good luck with that," said one firefighter. "See how many guys they used to set it up, today?"

"We were working, today, with an unusually difficult drill," a fire department spokesman said.

"It's pretty useful just to have a back-up here. It makes you feel much better. You sleep better at night," says Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.


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