A Brief Interview With Steve Shoap; Inventor of a New Wildfire Protection System

 Steve, can you describe your background? Your career, education, interests and any special achievements?

I was born long time ago in a world with wired phones and radios. No television.
I loved taking things apart to learn how they worked.
An older cousin showed me a crystal set when I was a pre-teen.
A crystal set had no batteries or electric power. It was a radio made from a piece of rock
with a wire touching it, and some other simple components.
It blew me away. How could I hear radio stations with no power source.

When I was 12 years old, I built a 2 transistor radio from instructions in a magazine. It worked.

After high school, I went to Drexel University in Philly to study electrical engineering.
Drexel was a Co-op school, and half the year I worked at RCA in Camden N.J.

I loved working at RCA. I was embedded with real engineers who were doing Television design.

Another RCA job was with DIGITAL SYSTEMS.

After a BSEE from Drexel, I got a government sponsored MSEE at MIT.

After MIT, I accepted  a job offer from Bell Telephone Laboratories. They asked me if I wanted to work with the existing ANALOG technology, or the this new thing called DIGITAL SYSTEMS.
I picked DIGITAL and rode that rocket ship for the next several decades.

I got a few patents for Bell Labs, and learned about the patenting process.

After 11 years at Bell Labs in New Jersey, my wife wanted to be near her large family in Boston.

I went to work for MIT Lincoln Lab in Lexington MA. These were the days of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars. I worked in a group that had a small plane fitted with a very hi-tech radar. It was designed to detect military objects on the ground. I designed a special purpose digital processor that could detect object faster than by conventional means. The memory architecture of the processor got me a US patent.

At Lincoln Lab, I was using a Motorola Semiconductor 68000 computer chip that was very hot in the Boston tech market. Motorola offered me a job of Field Application Engineer on their team. The 68000 was the chip that was in the Macintosh PC. While at a booth at a trade show, Steve Jobs walked by. I shook hands with him, and thanked him for using our chip.

What is your invention?

When I retired, a lot of bad wildfires were happening. I learned that the National Fire Protection Assoc was headquartered in Quincy MA. They had a library of fire related books that was open to the public. I started going to the library and reading about wildfires. The librarian introduced me to an executive, and I ended up joining a technical committee on electronic devices.

On TV we see planes dropping retardant on fires, or firefighters with shovels clearing lines of fuel to stop the fires. It seemed that water on the ground was not used very often. I wondered how far water could be pumped through a hose. I learned that water can be pumped for about a mile. Then another fire pumper would be needed to boost the pressure again to go for another mile. Using multiple pumps is called relay pumping. It is not used very often because each pump must be carefully coordinated with all the other pumps. To verbally do the coordination over a radio system is very prone to error, and an error can destroy hoses and pumps.

I noticed that a hose company sold a hose with a wire embedded in its walls. The hose was used by the military to supply diesel fuel, and the wire was added to prevent static electricity from igniting the diesel fuel.

I was very familiar with Ethernet technology from my Motorola days, and I saw the possibility of connecting multiple pumps via Ethernet over a wire pair in order to have precision control of them. I spoke with the Director of Engineering at Hale Pumps. We both concluded that it would be straightforward to connect his pumps to an Ethernet network. We wrote an article that was presented at a Technical Conference. I hope that Hale will develop such a system some time soon. The article, and many other things can be seen at my website  www.fightwildfires.com

At some point it occurred to me that many wildfires have a very wide front, and that it would take too many fire pumpers to fight the fire. Why not put holes in a long hose, and stop the fire with a long wall of water rising up out of the holes. In addition, the long hose could be broken up into independent segments that could spray or not spray. The control of segments would be done by the Ethernet network.

I started to experiment with putting holes in hoses. A simple hole created a very high but narrow stream into the air. This created gaps in the wall of water unless the holes were very close together. If there are too many holes, then too much water is needed.

While trying different strategies, I accidentally discovered a very unexpected type of flow. By adding a small device over a hose hole, a very wide spray comes out of the hole. It is an excellent shape to create a wall of water. I got a US and Canadian patent for the device. Please look at my website for more info.

Who is the ideal customer for your design?

My spray invention can be used by a homeowner to protect a home. A pump and a swimming pool or large water container are needed. A garden spigot cannot supply enough water. My spray hose will cost much less than an equivalent sprinkler system.

If a fire is approaching a town, the spray hose can be deployed and the home owner can evacuate.

InfraRed sensors can be used to turn on the spray when the fire is close to the home.

I hope that my system will be supported by fire insurance companies to allow them to insure homes that are in locations that are likely to be subjected to wildfire.


How does it compare to other solutions in the market?

Today, lawn and irrigation type sprinklers are used to protect properties from wildfires. My invention will do a better job than sprinklers at a fraction of the cost. My invention will be much quicker to set up.

How can people learn more about you and connect with you?

or my website: www.fightwildfires.com

About Nick Lamparelli

Nick Lamparelli is a 20+ year veteran of the insurance wars. He has a unique vantage point on the insurance industry. From selling home & auto insurance, helping companies with commercial insurance, to being an underwriter with an excess & surplus lines wholesaler to catastrophe modeling Nick has wide experience in the industry. Over past 10 years, Nick has been focused on the insurance analytics of natural catastrophes and big data. Nick serves as our Chief Evangelist.

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