Fanning the flames of controversy, some insurance companies have established their own fire protection services to deploy during wildfire events. Using fire trucks equipped to spray protective foam or gel on landscape and structures, these private firefighting teams selectively attempt to protect their policyholders – even while their neighbors’ properties go up in smoke.
Insurance company fire units are an increasingly popular ‘offering’ from companies that certainly provide good publicity, but are not always effective. In fact, they can create a false sense of security for homeowners and result in disastrous consequences.
Spraying a home with foam or gel is no guarantee that the home will be saved. The gel or foam must be applied within a specific time window to work properly. Gel manufacturers estimate that their products can last anywhere from several to seven hours, and possibly up to one day if conditions are perfect. Environmental variables such as precipitation, wind and high temperatures can reduce the gel’s effectiveness.
The physical logistics of getting the privatized fire trucks to the fire site is another complication. Because these private companies are not part of the fire service, they might not be allowed close enough to treat their clients’ homes — especially if a mandatory evacuation is in effect. Since wildfires are extremely unpredictable, getting the gel to the appropriate place at the right time is critical but can be near impossible.
Another concern when using these types of fire-retardant gels is their impact on homes and the environment. For example, the oil ingredient in one type of gel is biodegradable but the remaining polymer is only expected to biodegrade over time. Since these gels are relatively new to the market, it’s simply not possible to tell what the environmental impact will be in the long term. In other cases, fire-protective gel has caused damage to home exteriors, resulting in expensive insurance claims.
When gel and foam manufacturers do not have their own trucks or are unable to contract with insurance companies, they target fire companies as customers. To use this technology, fire companies – already working with tight budgets – must pay thousands of dollars for the gel, mixers and applicators.
The threat of wildfire is increasing while our inability to fight them compounds the potential for loss. How can we, as citizens and homeowners, protect ourselves and property from catastrophe? The answer might be simpler than you think. There are many steps homeowners can take to prepare their homes, property and family to survive a wildfire scenario including assessing their home’s vulnerability, taking preventative measures, and developing and practicing an evacuation plan.
This publication provides general information and/or recommendations that may apply to many different situations or operations. Any recommendations described in this publication are not intended to be specific to your unique situation or operation and are not intended to address all possible hazardous conditions or unsafe acts that may exist. Consult with your staff and specialists to determine how and whether the information in this publication might guide you in specific plans for your situation or operations. Additionally, this article does not substitute for legal advice, which should come from your own counsel.