Putting Out Fires
Tulsa based SpectrumFX looks to make an impact in the fire suppression industry.
Kent Faith is CEO of SpectrumFX.
Photos by Chris Humphrey.
One can find all manner of wonderful and amazing videos on the internet. From talking pets to daredevil maneuvers involving every vehicle known to man, there are truly unbelievable things to be seen all over the web. For instance, if you visit the website of a Tulsa-based company called SpectrumFX, you can see video of a mild-mannered looking fellow in a white coat in a lab setting cover his arm in a clear liquid, rub the liquid evenly over his skin and hold the blue flame of a blowtorch mere inches from his arm. Truly unbelievable stuff. And according to Kent Faith, 100 percent accurate.
“I’ve done the blowtorch demonstration you see on the video,” says Faith, founder and CEO of SpectrumFX. “People are amazed, but the fact is, we’ve got an absolutely unique, effective product.”
The product Faith refers to is Firebane, an incredibly efficient fire extinguishing agent and the primary reason that SpectrumFX exists. Faith, a 23-year veteran American Airlines pilot, was familiar with Firebane through his relationship with GSL, the company that owns the agent. It was Faith’s experience in the airline industry that led him to recognize Firebane as being uniquely suited for aircraft fires, particularly those fires involving lithium batteries.
“I’ve always been concerned about fire dangers in the cabin of an aircraft,” Faith explains. “These days there are so many passengers with lithium batteries on board to power their devices, like laptops and cell phones. There hasn’t been a good way to put out a lithium fire.”
In Firebane, Faith recognized a fire suppression method that was not only effective in putting out lithium battery fires, but also EPA-certified as 100 percent environmentally safe, unlike halon, the industry standard, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) that hasn’t been produced since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1994. While halon is still used on domestic carriers, at some point the existing stores will run dry, and the airline industry will need an alternative. Faith is working toward making Firebane a viable option.
“Right now the most effective method would be a combination of halon and Firebane,” Faith says. “Halon is certified to extinguish A, B and C fires, and Firebane is certified for class A, B and D. We can’t do C-rated electrical fires because we’re water-based. Firebane will put out an electrical fire, but because it’s conductive, it’s not rated for that.”
It’s the D rating that proves Firebane’s effectiveness. Class D fires are those that involve the ignition of combustible metals, like magnesium and lithium. These metals burn at significantly higher temperatures than class A fires, which include wood or paper, and class B, which involve flammable liquids. Another of those amazing videos on the SpectrumFX website features a demonstration of Firebane extinguishing a magnesium fire. Literally seconds after the fire is extinguished, the gentleman conducting the demonstration picks up the burned magnesium with his bare hands.
Taking what he learned about the effectiveness of Firebane in battling fires that posed such a significant threat in the industry he knew so well, Faith developed the Lithium Fire Extinguishing (LiFE) Kit and founded SpectrumFX to begin marketing the revolutionary product to the aviation industry. He quickly brought on his first, and to date only, employee. Ross Faith, Kent’s son, earned a JD and MBA from the University of Michigan. He finished business school last year and in August 2012, just a few months after SpectrumFX was formed, Ross moved back to Tulsa to become vice president of finance and business development.
“He and I talked early on, maybe two-and-a-half years ago,” Ross says of working with his father. “I had just graduated law school, and I would try to help answer any questions about legal aspects he had.”
There were other opportunities for a young guy with a law degree and an MBA, one would imagine. But for Ross Faith, the chance to work alongside his dad on something they both felt so strongly about was too good to pass up.
“Working on a start-up is really risky,” Ross says. “I had to balance that uncertainty and not making as much income as I could in a corporate job with this opportunity. But my dad is a really good entrepreneur and salesman, and I was sold.”
Ross’s decision looks less risky as time goes by. SpectrumFX recently signed its first two contracts with international carriers. And while the focus remains on the LiFe Kit in airline passenger cabins, the future possible applications for Firebane appear to be endless. Kent Faith sees Firebane as being just as suited for auto racing, the oil and gas industry and computer data centers as it is for the aviation industry. And as the business grows, so will the family connection, as Kent hopes to bring his daughter on board in the near future.
“I’m from Oklahoma,” Faith says. “My grandfather was born in Indian Territory. My goal is to have a family-owned business that provides not only a useful, potentially life-saving product, but to do it right here.”