New Jersey Department's 'Grenade' Tames Flames

Posted: 10-31-2008
Updated: 10-31-2008 05:14:04 PM

North Jersey Media Group

POMPTON LAKES -- Flames were shooting from a Pompton Lakes home Wednesday when a firefighter tossed a 10-pound canister into heavy flames on the second floor.

The canister quickly released a non-hazardous chemical that drastically reduced the temperature of the blaze.

"It slowed the fire down from traveling to the other side [of the second floor]," said Fire Chief Dean Cioppa. The main body of the fire was extinguished within 10 minutes.

"In my career, that was the fastest knockdown I've ever seen for the amount of fire that it was," said Cioppa, a veteran of more than 20 years.

The family of five at 422 Montclair Ave. escaped without any injuries shortly before 8 a.m., the chief said, adding that the home is still habitable.

The fire remains under investigation, he said, but early indications are that it was started by a child playing with matches.

The 10-pound canister -- received by the Fire Department on Monday -- is known as Fire Interruption Technology, or FIT-5.

"It definitely helped us get more access," Cioppa said. "It knocked down some initial fire and stopped it from traveling.

Nearly 40 fire departments statewide have been equipped with the FIT-5 since it made its debut earlier this year in West Milford.

"It's the best device they ever came out with," said Bob Castro, fire chief of West Milford's Company 2, citing an April blaze the FIT-5 helped halt. "It knocked out the fire within seconds."

His Jefferson Township colleagues used the device to contain that fire to the basement.

"I had no idea what it was at first," said Castro, an 18-year veteran, describing the device as the size of a lunch box. The FIT-5 costs $1,300. "They're very expensive, but it's worth it," he said. "I would recommend every fire department have one of these."

More than 100 fire departments in the U.S. have the product, most of them in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

North Jersey departments with the device include Bloomingdale, Kinnelon and Butler, according to ARA Safety, the Canada-based company that makes the product.

The "fire-knockdown tool" has gained popularity in the U.S. over the past year, said Michael Gardiner, director of marketing for ARA Safety.

Very similar to a grenade, it deploys after a pin is pulled and the canister is tossed into the fire.

It emits a large cloud of extremely fine potassium salt that brings down the temperature and in some cases eliminates the flames, Gardiner said.

Fast facts

* One of the first FIT-5s employed in the U.S. was used to keep a propane tank from exploding.

* The dealer, Firefighter One, provided the FIT-5 and trained the Pompton Lakes Fire Department to use it on Monday night, just hours before the Montclair Avenue fire.

* Pompton Lakes Fire Chief Dean Cioppa said it took about three months of fund-raising to buy three of the devices at $1,300 each.