Indian Back Pumps a Simple Solution for Fire Suppression


Fires are and always will be a danger, whether wildland or structure fires.  When you cannot depend on the fire department what do can you do?  One possible solution is the Indian Back Pump.  This is a simple five-gallon pack that fits on your back.  It has a short hose and a pump that will put out a decent stream of water for 20 feet or so.  They come in several configurations, with either metal (galvanizes or stainless steel) or vinyl backpacks.  They all hold 5 gallons of water.

They are easy to fill with a tap, hose or stream through the 2 to 4 inch opening at the top.  They should have a filter located inside the opening to prevent debris from plugging the hose or pump.  They are designed to be carried on your back and to suppress small fires.  Indian Back Pumps or their clones are used by almost every fire department in the United States.

Vinyl Indian Back Pump

Indian Back Pump can be disassembled by hand for complete in-field maintenance and repair kits are easily purchased.  Now these are just one of the many types of fire extinguishers that are available on the market.  Here are the links to a couple of previous articles I have written on this subject.  Hand Pump Fire Extinquishers What Type of Fire Extinguisher Do You need?

Now the Indian Back Pumps have some advantages over other types of extinguishers.  One they require no special chemicals to refill them just use plain water.  They are easy to carry on your back when outside.  They can put out either a straight steam or fog pattern with just a twist of the nozzle.

In a TEOTWAWKI situation, you will probably have to use open flames fires for cooking, heating or light. This could include campfires, candles, kerosene lanterns, fireplaces and other sources of open flame. Having a portable Indian Back Pump near your fire may prevent a major disaster.  I can tell you from personal experience that is amazing how much fire you can extinguish with one if you catch it soon enough.  They are available on the internet and from E-Bay.


7 thoughts on “Indian Back Pumps a Simple Solution for Fire Suppression”

  1. There are also versions made of a very solid plastic, but shaped like the metal version shown. I have used them for small fires and I agree they work quite well. They will not extinguish anything large, but for small fires that could become large ones they make perfect sense, and the pressure and accuracy of the nozzle allow you to target small fires much more easily then if using an open topped bucket.

  2. I have three of the “stainless cylinder” type extinguishers … rechargable water-(compressed)air mix. (Bought them on eBay.) They’ve come in quite handy more than once.
    I’ve also converted a larger empty ‘conventional red’ – formerly dry chemical -extinguisher to the water-air type – a simple conversion once you understand how to do it.

    A side note:
    When I was yard manager at an auto salvage yard, the (cheap) owner never had any “real” fire extinguishers for the yard crew; they only had the water-air type available. In spite of working around oil, grease, electrical wiring, etc, – using cut-off saws and cutting torches – the crew never burned up a car. They had small fires that were easily extinguished with what they had available.
    I know “the experts” will be horrified and say that water-air extinguishers can’t be used on grease fires … but I think when they say that, they better be very specific about how large a fire and where it’s located. (Obviously, a water-air extinguisher wouldn’t be my first choice for a grease fire on the kitchen stove!) And, while I’m no “expert”, I was a paramedic with firefighter training for ten years.

  3. Howard,

    I am commenting on an older article as it is relevant to a recent experience. We had a brush fire started by a careless neighbor. It was windy and it had not rained substantially for at least 6 weeks. The brush was about 3-4 feet high, dead and dry. The neighbor thought it was a great time to burn trash without a burn barrel, then went back inside to watch television after he started the bags alight.

    The fire quickly spread through his yard’s dead, dry grass and into the surrounding brush. The wind was blowing around 10 mph and moved the fire quickly. Fortunately the volunteer fire department was not on another call and arrived within 6 minutes with the first piece of equipment. One branch of the fire was blowing towards our property, so the firefighters positioned to defend our closest building.

    As other equipment arrived they chased down the flame front being blown towards a large area of woods. That left a significant area outside the reach of their hoses but not immediately threatening valuable property. This out of reach flame front was moving towards higher and denser brush. We did not have any wildland firefighting equipment on the property, just a few hand extinguishers.

    As an impromptu brush firefighting method, I attached the 6 foot brush cutter to our tractor and mowed over or just ahead of the flame front. Where the brush cutter went directly over the flames it immediately put the fire out such that nothing was even smouldering. Where the cut area was ahead of the flames it stopped the fire right at the closest edge of cut brush. The rear tractor tires also crushed out the flame front, which was not severe in the area where this was attempted.

    In an area where the flames were at the edge of a wooded section, the tractor was driven backwards, cutter first, into the burning brush and vines. This also put the ground-level fire out immediately while leaving some upper leaves and branches burning. Using this cutter-first method a firebreak was created that stopped the fire from going any further.

    While seemingly dangerous, I feel two circumstances allowed this technique to be used successfully. First was keeping a cool head and not working in a panicked state. In areas where a larger flame front was cut down the smoke became very dense for several seconds as the tractor moved through the area. Not panicking allowed a quickly held breath until clear air was reached. At no time did I inhale smoke. The other factor was good equipment maintenance. We work to resolve any fuel or oil leaks on our equipment, and periodically wash away oily residue. Where the flames were briefly impinging on the underside of the tractor, it only touched cast iron and old hard-as-a-rock paint; there were no oil drips to catch fire and cause a more serious situation.

    It would have been far more preferable and much less dangerous to have our own DIY wildland firefighting apparatus onsite, but we had not worked that far down our to-do list. It was clear from watching the firefighters that the lower brush flames were quickly extinguished with a relatively small amount of water.

    In the aftermath, we walked through the burned area with buckets of water, putting out any embers or smouldering patches. This would have been made easier and more effective with one of the Indian backpack sprayers. The buckets were, however, useful in dousing the bases of larger trees where the sap and built-up midden needed a larger dose of water over a larger area.

    That night we also walked into the burned area with water buckets and flashlights, using the darkness to reveal three or four smouldering spots we had missed in the daylight.

    Ultimately I accept blame for allowing other projects to push back spending on a gas powered water pump and an inexpensive used 250 gallon IBC container. The phrase “get it before its too late!” was ringing loudly in my brain as the flames approached our property.

    Thank you, Howard, for your efforts and the wide variety of topics you cover.

    1. Tim –
      Instead of the gas-powered water pump for your 250-gallon tank, you might want to consider a good 12-volt “utility pump” as an option.
      The gas-powered pump will provide plenty of pressure and gallons-per-minute flow rate — but, with “only” 250 gallons available, you could run out of water much quicker than you expect. I realize that ‘250 gallons’ sounds like a LOT of water, but a small (2″ discharge) pump typically moves more than 150 gallons per minute.
      While a 12-volt utility pump won’t have the pressure or gallons-per-minute capability of the gas-powered unit, it will give you more “staying time” on site.
      An additional factor to consider … the 12-volt pump is basically a simple “plug-and-play” ready-to-go, while the gas-powered pump (like the typical stubborn lawnmower) could take a while to start.

  4. The main factor in determining the length of time firefighting water will last is the size of nozzle and pressure. Although your pump may be capable of 150 gpm, if you use a garden hose nozzle the output will be about 5gpm. If I were purchasing an engine powered pump, I would look at a 2 stage pump capable of 80psi or more. The best ones come from Australia. An alternative might be to get a water tank from an old cement mixer (not the mix drum) these are usually bolted to the truck frame and powered by compressed air from the truck. You could use almost any source of compressed air and have about 200gal of water readily available for low cost.

  5. Again, your blog is like taking a class, it’s a must visit at least once a week to learn something new. Thanks for taking the time to teach us newbies a thing or two.

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