Florida has a 12-month wildfire season because as little as two weeks without rain at any time of year can result in dry conditions that can lead to wildfires threatening forests and homes. December through June are the most active months for wildfires. The greatest numbers of wildfires typically occur in February, when killing freezes leave grass and brush dry and ready to burn, but the largest wildfires usually occur in April and May, when much of Florida experiences a spring drought. The spring drought conditions occurred early this year, which increased wildfire activity across the state. Florida averages more than 3,000 wildfires a year that burn more than 163,500 acres.
This year, the Florida Forest Service (FFS) had purchased nine John Deere 650K Final Tier 4 Crawler Dozers, a staple in firefighting, for use in the service’s 15 Field Center/Districts across the state. However, to prevent an engine air filter fire, it was in dire need of a fire-resistant air filter, as a standard filter would otherwise combust after prolonged exposure to intense heat or embers.
“There’s not a day that goes by when we aren’t fighting a fire somewhere in the state,” said Ron Worrell, Government Operations Consultant for the Florida Forest Service. “This fire season was our most active in the past five years and with these new model dozers we needed to be proactive in finding a fire-resistant air filter.
“It takes only the smallest of embers to light the filter media of a standard air filter, and once an ember comes in contact with the air flowing through the filter it’s like taking a blowtorch to it,” Worrell added. “There was not an aftermarket fire-resistant air filter available for the 650K Tier 4 dozers.”
Since 2011, WIX Filters has provided the Florida Forest Service with fire-resistant air filters, which helps extinguish embers if contact is made with the air filter, for earlier models of John Deere dozers. However, the rollout of the new John Deere 650K Final Tier 4 dozers would require a new fire-resistant filter.
“As the fire season escalated, the Florida Forest Service came to us as they were in immediate need of fire-resistant air filters for the new dozers,” said Jerry Parker, district sales manager for WIX Filters. “Every time dozers are deployed into a scene, the risk of injury due to air filter ignition grows worse, and the issue is magnified in larger fires.”
The challenge for WIX was that it had not yet cataloged a standard air filter for the new John Deere dozers, much less a fire-resistant filter. However, WIX says once the product team identified the proper John Deere filter, it quickly moved to develop a fire-resistant version.
“Once the product team identified the filter, it launched a flurry of activity across multiple departments to develop and deliver the new fire-resistant filter,” Parker said. “Engineering quickly confirmed we had the materials necessary, change orders were written and manufacturing was scheduled.”
WIX produced more than 200 fire-resistant filters – WIX 49035FR – less than 30 days after being contacted by the Florida Forest Service. The filters were then dispatched by the FFS’ Lake City Central Shop to field units across the state.
“WIX stepped up at a tremendous time of need and helped us solve a vexing safety issue,” said Earl Seagroves, operations and management consultant manager for the Florida Forest Service. “Florida has the highest number of wildfires east of the Mississippi River, so it’s important to have partners who understand our unique needs.”
Seagroves added that WIX’s fire-resistant filters play a critical role in keeping the department’s dozers in service longer while also making the vehicles safer for its 750 firefighters statewide. WIX has provided the service with about 2,000 fire-resistant filters since 2011.
“We can’t have equipment failure in our line of work given the potential jeopardy a stalled dozer could have on both the lives of our firefighters and the success of our mission,” he said. “Fire-resistant filters are one of the tools we rely on to help our dozers last longer when pushing through flames.”
For Parker, the partnership is not only about a sense of pride for a job well done, but one that involved a supporting cast at WIX that included product development, product management, engineering, R&D, manufacturing, purchasing and materials, customer service and marketing.
“It is a privilege to work with the brave men and women of the Florida Forest Service, who often work in some of the most hostile environments on earth,” said Parker, a resident of north-central Florida. “WIX takes great pride in providing a quality product designed to withstand these incredible elements.”