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Fighting fire with a homemade system.

An acute fear of fire and a desire to reduce the cost of fire insurance led Dan Gallery of rural Nowata County, Oklahoma to devise a method of fire protection that almost immediately proved its worth.

The system is relatively simple and inexpensive for the benefits it provides. It consists of a five-horse submergible REDA pump in a pond below the yard, two-inch pipe to carry the water to a control box just behind the house and some used fire hose. The pump is capable of pumping 60 gallons per minute at 75 psi. It is attached to a floating platform. Because it is submersible there is no danger of freezing. The only real installation cost was running electrical service to the pump and the water line to the house.

"This isn't anything I'm selling, I'm just telling you how I did it so you can do something along the same lines," Gallery said. "It saved my house in the first six months I had it in. It cost me about $3,000 to put in and saved me more than that on my insurance. The insurance company came out and took pictures of the system and included them in the policy."

Gallery's house sits on top of a hill and is surrounded on three sides by timber. This timber runs past the pond used as a water source and is thick, mixed species with brush and undergrowth that has not been cleared. Deadwood and leaves litter the ground, a recipe for a hot, fast fire.

The insurance savings is just one of the benefits.

"I'm really afraid of fire and I like to keep the place looking nice by watering the yard and flowers, and this lets me do both," he said. "Keeping the lawn cut and green is also a deterrent. The fire may come to the edge of the woods, but it will stop or slow way down when it hits the green grass. I put two inches of water on the yard at a time. I did it five times last year and watered the flowerbeds every two or three days. I know how much water I put on because I know what the hose puts out. There is water running to the flowerbeds and I can turn it on from the house."

While the yard is well landscaped with trees, shrubs and flowerbeds, the trees are spaced far enough apart a crown fire is unlikely. There are about 3-1/2 acres surrounding the house, but Gallery said he only waters the half nearest the buildings.

Even if your conditions aren't as elaborate as Gallery's, the same principal will work in protecting your property.

In addition to the actual fire, smoke should be taken into consideration.

"You don't know how close the fire is a lot of the time because of the heavy smoke," he said. "I've seen it so smoky here you didn't where you were, so 50 feet of hose isn't enough. You have to be able to see what you need to do and get to the actual fire."

Gallery has a reel on wheels parked near the hose connection. It contains old standard fire department 1-1/2 inch fire hose and can be rolled out and hooked up in a matter of seconds, adding to the hose he keeps connected. A simple flip of a switch activates the entire system and can be done by a fireman or neighbor if no one is home.

"The fire department will give away old hose that no longer meets their requirements, and that's all you need," Gallery said. "You should have at least 200 feet. I watched those houses in California burn and most of them had swimming pools. If you have a pool and a three-horse pump, you can save your place. You see them out there with a garden hose trying to fight fire, and that isn't enough, but a three-horse pump would be. I hate to see anyone lose their home. I've seen whole families with nothing because their house burned, and that is sad."

The two-inch line to the house reduces to 1-1/2 at the control panel.

"I'm three miles from the volunteer fire department and it will take them 15 minutes to get here," he said. "I can have my system going in five minutes or less and that makes a big difference in fighting fire."

The system's first test was shortly after it was installed. An out-of-control fire raced across his property. The blaze was so intense large trees burned, but the pattern shows a clear line where it was held back and forced to go around the house and yard. It came almost to the edge of the pond.

In addition to the pond that is the primary source of water, there are two others, one that is actually a swimming pool at the edge of the yard.

"You could drop a pump in there and take care of things," he said.

Gallery hasn't restricted his system to the outdoors. The hose that is always connected can be set to shoot a stream or spray and will reach anywhere inside the house.

In the closet at the end of the hall where a hot water tank is located, Gallery has installed a valve and connection that fits a 3/4-inch garden hose. The hose is coiled on a rack adjacent to the valve. It takes a simple push on the valve and the hose is activated and can be in any part of the house within seconds.

"The water for the house comes from the rural water district and we don't have as much pressure as we do on the other system being on top of the hill like we are, but we have plenty to put out a fire if we get to it fast enough," he said. "Everyone should have some kind of firefighting system and most of the time you will save more on insurance than it will cost. Nobody should have to face losing everything in a fire."

Gallery feels once people realize how much added protection and savings in insurance costs a system similar to his provides, there will be a movement towards including one in new construction as well as adding one to old.

"Once people start installing something like this it will be contagious, I believe," he said. "If the right guy would come along and say he would do the job, people would really pick up on it. People will spend $2,000 putting in a swimming pool and for another $1,000 they could have the protection. Pools are an ideal source because the electricity and plumbing are already there."

In addition to his fixed system, Gallery has a 500-gallon tank with two hose connections on wheels. A tractor can pull this to wherever it is needed. It is kept filled and ready to go.

"For a long time I was about the only one around here that had a spray rig," he said. "I got called to a lot of fires. Now most ranchers have one."

Gallery runs steers so his place is either pasture or timber. There is no plowed ground to provide a fire barrier and the creeks are lined with timber. Because he is also interested in providing habitat for quail and other wildlife, he doesn't clean fence rows that cross the place and also allows brush and weeds to grow along draws and an abandoned railroad right-of-way that crosses the place. This all adds up to enough fuel available to feed a fire. His system is sufficient to protect his home and outbuildings, allowing him to continue what he considers to be a style of pasture management that is beneficial to humans, steers and wildlife.
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Title Annotation:Homestead safety
Author:Smith, Charlotte Anne
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 2004
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