Wildfire Prevention Is Union Pacific's Priority as Summer Heats Up

Wildfire Prevention Collage | MR

Photos clockwise from top left, a flatcar modified to serve as a firefighting platform; a new fire car tanker with increased water capacity; and a bridge is treated with a fire-retardant foam product.

As summer temperatures soar and dry, windy conditions increase, Union Pacific’s Engineering and Transportation team members are proactively preparing to protect the railroad’s infrastructure against wildfires.

“Our No. 1 priority is the safety of our employees and surrounding communities,” said Jerry Rhea, manager-Bridge Maintenance, who has worked on fire prevention and safety for more than 25 years with Union Pacific. “As we work to protect people and our infrastructure, we aim to be as proactive and innovative as possible.”

For example, Rhea and his team use fire-retardant foam products to spray wooden bridges, structures and vegetation at the beginning of fire season, which on the West Coast typically spans June through October. One enhanced product being tested retains its fire-resistant properties through several summer rainstorms and easily applies with a water truck or fire car.

Medium | Inside Track: Lava Fire water train

Union Pacific’s fire car fleet is used to help fight wildfires.

“Once the product dries, it creates a barrier,” Rhea said. “If heat comes into contact with it, the chemical reaction begins and protects the structure or vegetation.”

Further efforts include ramped up fire- and weather-related response training, and a newly completed fire response trailer that serves as a mobile command post on Union Pacific’s Northern California Service Unit. It includes backup pumps, hoses, company radios, fittings, bladder tanks, firefighting personal protective equipment (PPE), charging ports and other equipment.

“Everything is stored in one place and ready to go when needed,” Rhea said.

Additional equipment is ready to join the battle in Northern California, including 27 new 32,000-gallon tanker cars and a flatcar that’s been modified as a platform to help fight fires.

“These additions are a gamechanger,” he said. “This triples our water-carrying capacity to 100,000 gallons at each location, allowing us to stay out longer before refilling. Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, and a big shoutout to our team who maintains and uses this equipment during fire season.”

Did you know? Union Pacific’s fire car fleet, strategically placed around the network, is comprised of former tank cars converted into water pump cars with a capacity of 7,000 to 32,000 gallons. Union Pacific employees operate the water tank cars, which are outfitted with nozzles that can spray upward of 75 feet.

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