CCG also provides utility companies with a visual standard they can use to determine a pole’s strength after a fire. “Because we’ve tested so many poles, we can look at a pole and gauge, based on the amount of char and how high the char is on the pole, whether it was compromised or not,” explains Troutman.
Using these two indicators, the utilities can replace only those poles that don’t have the necessary structural integrity to carry the wires. That saves them money and labor. If utilities want to continue using a pole, they can repair the insulating sleeve so it’s ready for the next fire event.
CCG manufactures FireStrong poles in a pultrusion process using proprietary, high-end engineered fabrics. It incorporates UV inhibitors in the materials and then uses its in-mold coating technology to add an extra layer of UV protection during the manufacturing process.
The composite sleeve, which is installed during the manufacturing process, is available in different lengths. Utility companies determine what size sleeve they need based on factors such as the height of the pole, the height of the fuel source and the potential height of the fire considering the slope of the area where it is installed. FireStrong poles are delivered to customers pre-drilled and ready for installation.
To validate the performance of FireStrong poles, Southwest Research and the Western Fire Center conducted test burns. “After the poles were burned at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, we took them to EDM International, which used its testing tools to determine the strength retention of those poles post-fire,” says Troutman.
In addition to their fire-resistance, FireStrong poles offer all the other advantages of FRP utility poles. They have high dielectric strength, which means they are poor conductors of electricity. That reduces workers’ risk of electric shock from shorting wires. Unlike wooden poles, they don’t leach any preservatives or insecticides into the ground and contaminate water sources. They are lighter weight than equivalent-size wooden poles, so they are easier to transport into inaccessible areas. Although they are more expensive up front, they have an expected lifespan of 75 years and can withstand hurricane-strength winds that knock down wooden poles.
Troutman says that one California utility has begun installing FireStrong poles as part of its fire mitigation efforts. Although there have been no fires in these areas, Troutman says the utility is confident that it is now prepared for them.