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Junk Bros founder sets sights on fire safety



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December 03, 2013
When Andrew Roth graduated from Valley Center High School in 2009, he knew college wasn't the path for him. An entrepreneur at heart, Roth soon started Junk Brothers to collect and haul away unwanted appliances, furniture, electronics, waste, and more from all over Valley Center.

With the help of his four brothers, Roth created a successful business by the time he was only 22 years old. Now, with everything he has learned managing Junk Brothers, Roth is ready to move on to an even more ambitious project: fire-proofing the utility poles across San Diego County.

"In the 2003 and the 2007 fires … me and my parents fought for our home both times," said Roth, a Valley Center native. "I found out that there were so many utility poles burnt, millions of dollars were burnt, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. So that was the idea: how could I protect the utility poles and keep the power on while there's a fire?"

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Andrew Roth hopes to reach an agreement with SDG&E to fire-proof utility poles such as this one. Photos by Michael Crane
His new project, Fire Safe Technologies LLC, involves applying a special fire-proofing paint to utility poles. The fire-proofing epoxy, called NanoChar, was first pioneered by Intumescents Associates Group (IAG) for military applications such as ensuring jet missiles are heat resistant for transportation. Although IAG's product was more expensive than comparable epoxies, it performed much better in testing.

"It went through three, 39 minute (tests) of intense heat and the pole still stood up — roughly three fires," said Roth. "Any other product went through one, or it maybe withstood one fire, so that was not an option for me." IAG tested their products in real wildfire conditions in Australia and, after months of research, Roth knew it was the best choice. "I think when you start a company, don't use anything but the best, no matter what the cost of it is," he said.

Roth plans on approaching San Diego Gas & Electric in the coming weeks to arrive at a contract to fire-proof approximately 1000 poles a year across the county.

"My selling point would be I can do any pole, anywhere," said Roth. With the specter of wildfire still looming large, Roth will primarily target poles in more rural areas. His equipment — a portable generator, an epoxy mixer, a sprayer, and a ladder — is compact enough that he can conduct the entire business out of the back of a pick-up truck.

According to Roth, more than 1,500 utility poles had to be replaced in San Diego County following the 2007 fires, costing San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) tens of millions of dollars. Roth plans on charging somewhere between $1,100 and $1,250 for each pole Fire Shield Technologies services, with the ability to service about five poles every day.

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"It will last as long as the pole lasts," said Roth of the epoxy. Depending on what SDG&E might want, Roth plans on coating each utility pole with the epoxy up to 14 feet above ground and up to ten inches below ground to ensure it survives a wildfire. Although it is a light grey color by default, Roth says he could easily make the epoxy go on brown to keep the fire-proofed poles from standing out.

As polished as Roth's business model is now, it took him nearly six months to get to this stage. The most difficult part was finding the right equipment to apply the thick epoxy spray.

"I must have spent $1,000 on sprayers, ruining them countless times until I found a winner," he said. However, he know has the entire process down and is ready to get it off the ground.

"I'm hoping before next fire season, that is the goal in mind," said Roth. To learn more, visit www.fireshieldtechnologies.com, or call 760-300-5151.

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