Under the gleaming sun on a recent day, Graham Winkelman and Mike Wasdyke filed along a San Rafael fire engine. Winkelman, a firefighter, polished a solution onto the bright surface of the truck as fire engineer Wasdyke followed, dabbing it with a wet cloth.
The no-rinse solution is only one method that San Rafael fire officials, along with fire officials countywide, have adopted in an effort to conserve water with the state in its fourth year of severe drought.
Fire departments were not included in the state mandate to cut water use, but that hasn’t stopped Marin fire officials from letting station lawns go brown, skipping vehicle washes and getting creative to slow the flow of water.
“We want to make sure we’re setting a good example for the public,” said San Rafael fire Capt. Paul Bernard. “Sometimes it’s hard for them to see because when they do see us, they see us using water, but we’re using a lot less.”
The San Rafael, Larkspur and Marinwood fire departments in early 2014 adopted a water conservation directive, similar to one adopted about the same time by other Marin fire agencies, to reduce water usage by 25 percent following a series of guidelines. Among the directives is one suggesting minimal washing of fire vehicles.
The no-rinse solution used by San Rafael firefighters to wash vehicles is just one way to amp up conservation efforts, said fire Chief Christopher Gray, who initiated the directive. Instead of using gallons of water during a regular wash process, only a bucket of water is needed to keep vehicles clean with the solution, San Rafael fire officials said.
Novato fire officials this year also began using a no-water solution to clean vehicles, Battalion Chief Dmitri Menzel said. The city’s fire district, which has cut an estimated 30 percent in water usage, has taken to only cleaning vehicles once they’ve become very dirty, Menzel said.
Marin County fire officials teamed with the Marin Municipal Water District during the early years of the current drought to design a system that allows for pumped water to be used, collected and stored in a portable water tank.
“This turns it into a closed-circuit system that’ll allow us to conserve the majority of water and pumps it into a large tank. So it’s almost like having a portable water reservoir,” county fire Chief Jason Weber said.
When it is fully constructed, the system will be available for use to other agencies, Weber said.
During trainings in Novato, water is only pumped from hydrants when engineers are training, Menzel said.
“That’s what we’ve internally mandated to our personnel — if you’re out training, don’t flow water unless you’re training an engineer who needs to have water flowing to see hydraulics and what happens when you move water,” he said. “That’s essential when training an engineer.”