Madawaska fire chief pays it forward to neighboring departments

MADAWASKA, Maine — Fire Chief Jim Soucy enjoys spending some of his free time working in his home machine shop. The shop is also where he occasional fabricates parts to help his firefighters on the job.

Madawaska Fire Department Fire Chief Jim Soucy looks at one of the special chimney nozzles his department has on its fire trucks. (Don Eno)

Recently, Soucy had a need to fabricate a special chimney fire nozzle for his department and thought making some for surrounding fire departments would a good idea.

“Why not make a few more,” he said Thursday. “If it saves just one house, then it’s worth it.”

Soucy made three extra nozzles, which he will be giving to the St. Agatha, Grand Ise and Frenchville Fire Departments. Madawaska already has a few such nozzles.

St. Agatha Fire Chief Bobby Guerette said Thursday that he is happy to be receiving the donated nozzle from Soucy, adding that the area departments “always try to work together.” In October, for instance, Guerrette’s department donated more than 3,000 feet of used hose to the Frenchville department.

Frenchville Fire Chief Peter Parent said Soucy’s donation showed “one department helping another. I’m very grateful to Jim.”

Soucy’s chimney nozzle attachments, based on a commercially designed model, are used to help cool down and extinguish fires that usually are caused by a buildup of creosote inside chimneys. They are made to fit on the end of a 1-inch fire hose, although adapters can be used to attach it to a smaller garden hose or a larger fire hose.

This spacial chimney nozzle at the Madawaska Fire Department has been used to help extinguish multiple chimney fires. (Don Eno)

The commercial version costs about $250.

The aluminum to fabricate the nozzles was donated by Twin Rivers Paper Company in Madawaska. The custom wrenches, used to tighten and loosen the nozzles were fabricated and donated by Aroostook Welding in Frenchville.

“We don’t drop it all the way down and run water through it,” Soucy said. Over applying water down a hot chimney could crack the liner or the chimney and may damage the furnace or boiler below, he explained. Instead, firefighters locate the “hot spot,” Soucy said.

As smoke, ashes and other by-products of combustion rise in chimneys, some cooling and condensation occurs. The resulting residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney or flue is called creosote, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Creosote will often build up near the roof line where there is a sharp drop in temperature. If it builds up in sufficient quantity, it could result in a chimney fire.

Regardless of where the hot spot is, Soucy said, the nozzle can be lowered to it and a fine mist of water applied, cooling down the burning or smouldering creosote, without dousing the entire chimney. The hose itself is never lowered past the hot spot.

Soucy said firefighters normally use dry chemicals to initially put down the worst of the chimney fire. The portion of the chimney that has the built up creosote is then attacked with the nozzle.

The chief said even if the chimney remains hot and filled with flames, firefighters can lower the nozzle, slowly applying water to cool it down, until the nozzle reaches the blockage.

Because the buildup is mostly at the roofline, those hotspots are normally only four or five feet from the top of the chimney.

“We have used it quite a few times on chimney fires,” Soucy said “It works well.”

“It will be a great asset to the department,” Parent said. “It can extinguish a stubborn chimney fire without spoiling the liner.”

When it comes to preventing chimney fires in the first place, Soucy advises homeowners to inspect chimneys every year, especially ones that are used with wood or coal stoves for boilers.

“Keep it clean,” Chief Soucy said. “Visually check it out and if it needs to be cleaned, clean it.”

Soucy added that the recent cold weather has been causing even more creosote to be deposited on the inside of chimneys.

Having a working carbon monoxide detector also is important for home safety.

“It could save your life,” Soucy said.

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