By Jan Jackson
When Lee Miller, president and CEO of Miller Timber Services in Philomath, Oregon, sees a need that isn’t being met, he gets his team together and does something about it. His recent project was working with Ponsse to turn his regular forest machines into impressive pieces of firefighting equipment. It has taken two years, but they’ve done it.
Ponsse, the privately owned Finnish company specializing in forest products and equipment, employs more than 1,800 people in 10 countries. They have years of experience coming up with quick, easy, and simple ways to equip their large and medium sized forwarders with firefighting equipment that contains centrifugal impeller water pumps and water cannons that are powered by the machine’s loader hydraulics.
When Miller Timber Services (Miller) appealed to Ponsse for a better way to fight fires, Ponsse immediately called on their experience with the machines they already had doing similar work in Finland and South America and began modifying a machine to meet Miller’s specific needs. The first one in North America, the new machine comes complete with a 2,640-gallon tank equipped with a powerful hydraulically controlled pump and water cannon that can rotate 360 degrees and reach 160 feet. The spray direction, angle, and pattern range from water mist to a solid stream.
Jouni Viitikka, who has managed Ponsse sales in Western Washington, Oregon, and Northwestern California since 2015, worked with Miller at Ponsse’s main office in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, long before the company added a branch in Coburg, Oregon.
“We look at our customers as business partners, and working closely with them is pretty much what Ponsse does,” Jouni said. “Lee Miller has about 30 of our machines at work on at least three different firefighting crews, and half of their harvest machines are cutting trees and opening fire lines. They’ve carried water before, but they never had water cannons on their equipment. He came to us and said, ‘Hey, we need something more.’”
Jouni explains that Miller was looking for something similar to what they use in Finland for fighting peat bog fires. “In Finland, we don’t have these big forest fires like in the U.S., but there is a peat-land-like swamp where they lift peat for burning in power plants, and sometimes there are fires on them. Those are really difficult to put out because the ground is too soft to go in there with the big trucks or anything like that. But we put tracks on machines like our medium and large Buffalo and Elephant forwarders that have been turned into firefighting equipment and go right in.”
The new aluminum water tank, which forms the core of the new firefighting equipment, has sensitive parts that have been anodized to withstand the use of various chemicals mixed with water, as well as seawater. The top of the tank is equipped with large refilling units through which chemicals can also be added quickly and easily. Because it is powered by the machine’s hydraulics and electronics, no external power source is needed. The refilling pump is a centrifugal submersible pump, which fills the water tank from a natural water source in approximately seven minutes. The pump can be moved to any specific place, position, and depth using the machine’s existing crane. The wireless remote control can adjust the water spray direction vertically and horizontally as well as the spray pattern. Battery life is six to eight hours, and the battery can be replaced very quickly.
Preston Green, Cut-to-Length Operations Specialist for Miller since 2018, said he was excited about what the new machine is going to do for them.
“The company has worked with Ponsse for a number of years now, and this is just one of the latest examples of a product that has resulted from that collaboration,” he said. “Before, Miller Timber used tanks that we fabricated ourselves. We put them in the forwarders and carried water to the fire. But those tanks have not had the pump and water cannon that this attachment from Ponsse has. In addition, our old tanks that we built ourselves were just standalone units rather than ones that are fully powered from the base machine. We just had a little volume pump, like a little Briggs & Stratton motor that you can find on a generator pump. Now we’re on a whole different playing field with the Ponsse tank. It’s like going from a garden hose to Niagara Falls.”
He adds, “Our [Miller’s] modifications essentially added to the flexibility and the capabilities of the tank. So when we got it, there was the water cannon that shoots water out 160 feet, the pump to push that water, and then a suction pump that’s used to fill the tank. What we did was add a fitting manifold housing and a variety of pipe outlets of different sizes, so we could plumb in a variety of hoses. With the valves, a live reel, and different options for plumbing in lines of all different types and sizes, this resource is more versatile in its ability to work with a variety of other resources.”
From tenders to hand crews to engines to aerial equipment, the machine and attachment can work with just about any other resource commonly found on the fireline. The new technology allows Miller to supply water to smaller engines or hand crews.
“Lee Miller, the man who started the company and still runs it today, saw the need to add the firefighting part of the business during a particularly bad fire season, and now it has become a permanent way to diversify the business,” said Preston. “The firefighting side of our business is one of the main pillars of our business. The firefighting part is tough work, and depending on the fire season, it can be rough, but rewarding.”
During the month of May, Ponsse and Miller Timber took the new firefighting machine to Central Oregon and northern California for on-site demonstrations. Mainly targeting those in decision-making roles when it comes to allocating firefighting resources, the demonstration in Central Oregon was on Forest Service land and the one in the Sierras was on land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries. Fire suppression is a big concern for landowners of all sizes; while they were demonstrating the machine for the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, and ODF agency personnel, they were also showing it to industrial private landowners.
“We don’t know what this fire season is going to be like, but we’ll be better prepared with the new firefighting machine than we were before,” said Preston. “It has the power to get that water where it needs to go, but it’s easy to operate for anybody who has already run a forwarder. It fits well with the base machine, and the cameras give the operator increased visibility while still allowing for the full use of the crane. Besides the fact that it is operationally impressive, it is just fun to operate. Granted, I like working with cutting-edge tools and equipment, but who wouldn’t want to try out a giant 250-psi 150’ squirt gun?”
ON THE COVER
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