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Q&A: WATERAX VP on 100 years of wildland product inventions and what’s next

Learn about WATERAX’s tradition of inventing innovative wildland firefighting pumps and how it made a teenager fall in love with firefighting and the company – all the way to the vice president’s office.


The following is paid sponsored content by WATERAX.

By FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

Wildland portable pumps are an essential tool for firefighting operations, especially in remote environments where water sources are scarce and personnel must travel long distances to hotspots.

Marcello Iacovella, VP of sales and business development at Waterax, talks about the innovations and why he dedicated his life to the company. (Image: WATERAX)
Marcello Iacovella, VP of sales and business development at Waterax, talks about the innovations and why he dedicated his life to the company. (Image: WATERAX)

For nearly 100 years, WATERAX has been dedicated to serving wildland firefighters by being the first to market on several firefighting pump innovations. Here, Marcello Iacovella, VP of sales and business development at Waterax, talks about the innovations and why he dedicated his life to the company.

You joined WATERAX at 19 and stayed to become vice-president. Tell us that story.

I took a summer job to help the company’s accountants file taxes. Instead of returning to the university full-time, I was offered a job in sales and got my bachelor’s degree at night. The company paid for it and I stayed on.

I then worked for customer service, traveled the world selling, became a director and then in 2006 went back to get an MBA at Concordia University, Montreal.

I fell in love with the company. So, in 2010, my partners and I were able to acquire it.

Why is the company called WATERAX?

The company’s mission is to help wildland firefighters move water.

WATERAX pays respect to our founding fathers, Watson Jack and Wajax, while providing a clear identity representing our mission to innovate a wildland firefighting product we do well – portable pumps.

Why is a Canadian company in a unique position to serve the global wildland fire market?

Canadian forests occupy 45 percent of the country’s total continental area. Our company’s roots in are in Canada. We’ve had our share of wildland fires that have driven the demand for portable pump innovations.

In fact, the history of fire pumps in Canada dates back to the early 1900s. Mr. H.C. Johnson, a fire inspector for the Board of Railway Commissioners of Canada, designed the first Canadian portable forestry fire pump in 1915.

We continue that spirit of innovations and increased our R&D budget starting in 2010 to be more focused on new products for the market.

WATERAX founder John Colquhoun Watson Jack introduced a 200 psi portable fire pump called the Wajax in 1925. That’s nearly 100 years of innovation. How does it feel to run a company with such a long history of innovation?

It means a lot to my partners and me. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to maintain the legacy as proud successors to a nearly century-old Wajax heritage, now branded WATERAX.

We consider ourselves to be custodians. Our responsibility is to secure the company for the long-term benefit of all stakeholders, including employees and our valuable customers – the firefighting community.

How did the company’s invention in 1964 of the MARK-3 brand, a wildland portable “lightweight” fire pump, change the wildland firefighting industry?

The MARK-3, powered by the WATERAX 185cc engine, is known as the “heart of the suppression system.”

The MARK-3 has passed the USDA Forest Service 100 hours endurance test in San Dimas and has been re-qualified under QPL-5100-274 as of August 2015. It now is considered to be an integral piece of equipment used by wildland firefighters across North America and other countries around the world.

Another major innovation was the BB-4 centrifugal fire pump. What made that such a great invention?

This BB-4 pump is designed for use on tankers or self-contained slip-on units. Its high-pressure capabilities deliver water through long hose lays in rugged terrain.

What makes it great is the detachable 4-stage pump end on the BB-4 which is identical to the pump end on the MARK-3 unit, which greatly reduces spare parts inventory and ability to respond to unforeseen equipment damage.

WATERAX products have multi-stage centrifugal pump ends designed to move water while generating high-pressure. How does this help wildland firefighters do their jobs?

Higher pressure units make it possible to move water over longer hose lays and at elevation, challenges faced by wildland firefighters when dealing with major fire line operations in rural, hilly, rugged terrain.

Wildland firefighters have a perilous job. What does keeping firefighters safe mean to WATERAX?

Our core purpose is to help wildland firefighters; therefore, their safety is always at the forefront when designing our products.

Our time-tested pumps are used in very rugged environments, and reliability is critical for firefighter safety. That’s what our pumps deliver.

What type of product innovations can we expect from WATERAX in the next decade?

In the years to come, there is an expected growth of the Wildland Urban Interface, the geographic location where the forest meets the community, due to the increase in residential homes and businesses in that area.

So, in the next decade, we will leverage our R&D expertise in moving water at high pressure and distance to see how we can create protection systems installed permanently, not just carried by firefighters.

To learn more about fire pumps, visit WATERAX or fill out the form below.

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