Santa Fe inventor develops air mover to assist firefighters

February 29, 2024
Maui Wildfire

Innovative air mover could revolutionize firefighting techniques

In Santa Fe, inventor Wayne Darnell has introduced a novel concept aimed at aiding firefighting efforts.

His invention, a high-velocity mobile “air mover,” is designed to push and potentially extinguish wildfires by directing flames back onto burned soil, where they are more likely to die out.

This device, resembling a large fan, promises to offer firefighters a new tool for conducting prescribed burns and managing wildfire containment more effectively.

Darnell’s air mover, now patented under number 11446687, is the subject of a National Science Foundation grant application.

He seeks funding to develop an enhanced version of the machine, hoping to increase its visibility and adoption in practical firefighting scenarios.

Reflecting on the journey of his invention, Darnell humorously paraphrases Thomas Edison, noting that he’s currently in the “perspiring” phase of his work, following a burst of inspiration that struck him about six years ago.

A journey from concept to reality

The genesis of the air mover came from a simple act: blowing out a match.

This moment sparked the idea in Darnell, a retired nuclear power plant start-up engineer, to conceive a large-scale air blower capable of extinguishing fires.

His subsequent visits to local fire stations garnered support for the concept, although initial plans were not formally drafted.

Instead, Darnell’s research led him to Panther Airboats in Florida, where a collaboration with the company’s owner, Jan Bell, and contractor Fred Hamm brought the air mover to life.

Hamm described the building process as straightforward, likening their initial design to “something like a stick man.”

Potential applications and challenges

During a test run in April near Tallahassee, Florida, Eric Staller, director of natural resources at Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, praised the ingenuity of the air mover.

Staller highlighted its potential in prescribed burns and firefighting, particularly for directing fires away from threatened towns.

However, he also noted the need for improvements, such as enhancing visibility for the operator and incorporating a swiveling mechanism for better maneuverability.

Despite its promise, Darnell acknowledges the hurdles in gaining acceptance for his invention within the firefighting community.

He cites tradition and the inherent risks of introducing new methods into critical situations as potential barriers.

Nonetheless, Darnell remains committed to his vision, emphasizing the air mover’s cost-effectiveness and its capacity to expedite prescribed burns and create safe escape routes in emergency scenarios.

Darnell, who has invested his own resources into the prototype, estimates that producing an air mover would cost significantly less than purchasing a new fire truck.

As he seeks to refine his invention, his ultimate goal is to make a positive environmental impact in an era marked by increasing drought and wildfire risks.

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