2017-07-21 / Business

Snuffing out fires with less water

By Melissa Simon


‘HIGH-DENSITY FOG’—Richard Sauer, a Ventura Countyfire captain and co-founder of Micro-Droplet Systems in Simi Valley, demonstrates the atomized spray created by the WASP Ultra-High Pressurefire suppression system June 29 at Ventura Farms in Thousand Oaks. 
PATRICK GARRETT/Acorn Newspapers ‘HIGH-DENSITY FOG’—Richard Sauer, a Ventura Countyfire captain and co-founder of Micro-Droplet Systems in Simi Valley, demonstrates the atomized spray created by the WASP Ultra-High Pressurefire suppression system June 29 at Ventura Farms in Thousand Oaks. PATRICK GARRETT/Acorn Newspapers For more than 30 years, Ventura County Fire Capt. Richard Sauer has been told that using a lot of water to extinguish a fire is the only way to go.

But using large amounts of water to knock down a fire can lead to other issues, like polluted runoff going into storm drains, or mold and rot forming in homes that have been burned, Sauer said.

While looking for a solution, the fire captain found research conducted in 1953 by Lloyd Layman, a former Army officer and Coast Guard commander turned fire chief in West Virginia, that showed smaller water droplets extinguish flames more efficiently than traditional methods.

Sauer took Layman’s research to machinist Chris Wakim in April 2015, and the two came up with the Water Atomizing Suppression Pump, or WASP, a specially designed nozzle that uses one-tenth of the water used by a traditional fire hose by applying high pressure to a low volume of water. That water is then turned into micro-droplets that create a high-density fog to cool a fire’s heat and smother the flames.

In January, the pair formed the Simi-based business Micro- Droplet Systems to manufacture and sell the fire suppression system.

“This is a revolution because we’ve been fighting fire the same way for 150 years with the same results: exposure to harmful chemicals, death and cancer,” Sauer said. “(Wakim) and I are simple people trying to make a difference, and if I can save someone from getting injured or lower pollution with the WASP, then I feel like I’ve fulfilled my life.”

‘Versatile tool’

As a high-performance fire-suppression tool, the WASP is a compact system that can be placed in truck beds, patrol vehicles, fire engine compartments and on trailers, Sauer said.

To date, he has sold three WASP units, all to Ventura Farms at 235 W. Potrero Road in Thousand Oaks, for between $10,000 and $13,800 each, depending on the model.

Martín Montano, operations manager at Ventura Farms, said they purchased the units in February to better protect the property should a fire break out.

Last July, a weed whacker sparked and started a blaze that burned 75 acres of the farm, Montano said.

“It was very frustrating to sit back and watch the firefighters as the fire grew. I know they were doing their job, but I wish we’d been able to help more,” Montano said.

“We were able to control part of the fire to a certain extent with our on-site water tender and fire extinguishers, but if we’d had the WASP I believe we would’ve been able to knock the fire out before it got so big.”

Emerging technology

Fire Capt. Devin Misiewicz, who heads Fire Station 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County, said his crews have been using a similar system on an off-road Polaris utility vehicle for 10 years.

“This has more agility and it’s faster for situations in more rural areas where we can’t get the bigger engines,” Misiewicz said.

“The saltiest old firedogs are calling (the WASP) a glorified pressure washer, but it’s so much more than that, and the data is proof-positive that it helps save lives,” he said. “So if we can knock down a fire before it becomes this huge deal, then why wouldn’t we?”

Ultimately, Sauer would like to see the WASP being used not only by fire departments or farms but by everyone, including homeowners.

“More and more people are staying to protect their homes when a fire comes through, but you need to have a plan and the ability to fight with something that has the power of an engine. That’s what the WASP can do,” he said.

Aside from being a fire-suppression tool, the system can be used to wet down the grounds of a farm or by hazmat teams that need to rinse off after a call, Sauer said.

“It’s a versatile tool that can cut down on so much cost,” he said.

For more information, visit microdropletsystems.com.

Return to top