Class A Foam: The Smart Thing To Do (Part 3)

Raul A. AnguloI don't know anyone who enjoys going to the dentist. The goal is to get in there, get the job done, and get out as soon as possible. Structure fires should be viewed the same way.

I know it's more exciting going to a fire, but a good company officer wants to limit a crew's exposure to dangers and health hazards. Class A foams help accomplish that. The faster the fire is extinguished and the fuel is thoroughly wet, the faster the hazardous by-products of combustion are stopped. This makes the environment safer for firefighters.

Novacool protects exposures by reducing the surface tension of water.
Novacool protects exposures by reducing the surface tension of water, improving its ability to penetrate fuels and to increase their moisture content. (FoamPro photo)
FoamPro 2000 series proportioning system injects foam concentrate on the discharge side of the pump.
The FoamPro 2000 series proportioning system injects foam concentrate on the discharge side of the pump. Check valves prevent the concentrate from mixing in the pump or the booster tank. (FoamPro diagram)
Novacool stretches and increases the effectiveness of available water.
Novacool stretches and increases the effectiveness of available water, a tactical advantage when firefighting depends on water-shuttle operations. (FoamPro photo)

I believe resistance to using foam is rooted in a lack of understanding of the benefits of foam; confusion over proper foam selection and mixture ratios; associated costs; and concern for environmental damage. Seattle uses a product that takes all the guesswork out of using foam, Novacool UEF (Universal Extinguishing Foam). You could say it's "foolproof."

Novacool UEF (Universal Extinguishing Foam) is a foam concentrate that can be used on Class A, Class B, Class D, and three-dimensional (cascading, boiling, pressurized) fires. It meets the National Fire Protection Association 18 Standard on Wetting Agents and is UL (Underwriters Laboratories) tested and listed. Informal, independent tests also demonstrate that Novacool UEF is very effective on Class K fires.

Baum's Castorine Inc., which makes Novacool, has been manufacturing fire suppression foams since 1980. This modern foam concentrate works in three ways:

  • It reduces the surface tension of water, improving its ability to penetrate fuels.
  • It vastly improves the heat transfer from the fuel into the water.
  • It reduces fuel vapor pressure by emulsifying Class B materials at the fuel surface and excluding oxygen.

In my opinion, the most impressive benefit is Novacool's ability to reduce the heat of a fuel during application. Its rapid cooling capabilities far exceed those of regular water. In tests where Novacool was applied to extinguish a magnesium fire, ingots were cool enough after extinguishment so that someone could pick up the metal with bare hands.


Novacool is compatible with all fire apparatus and foam equipment. It's excellent with compressed air foam systems (CAFS), but can be applied through any nozzle suitable for foam. Good foam quality can be obtained when mixed with fresh, salt, or brackish water. Novacool can be used in conjunction with other Class A or Class B foams, including aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). Since it contains no alcohols, Novacool will not cause AFFF to defoam or contribute to the deterioration of the foam blanket.

Novacool UEF can extinguish Class B hydrocarbon fires independently of other Class B foams by creating an emulsion across the surface of the flammable liquid, thereby suppressing fuel vapors and excluding oxygen. It also cools the fuel and surrounding surfaces to ambient temperature. The blanket of foam bubbles provides a "reservoir" to resupply the vapor-blocking emulsion on the fuel's surface.

Novacool UEF will extinguish fires involving polar solvents, such as ethanol, and reduce the involved area to ambient temperature, but it will not produce a seal across the liquid's surface as an alcohol-resistant AFFF would.

Because Novacool is mixed with water at 0.4 percent for Class A fires, the company said an 87 percent to 93 percent reduction in product use is realized compared to conventional extinguishing agents, which are typically used at 3 percent to 6 percent. This makes the Novacool economically attractive and competitive for tight operating budgets.

Since Novacool UEF uses approximately one-seventh the concentration of conventional firefighting chemicals, it provides an environmentally responsible alternative for fire departments. Test data show it contains no reportable hazardous substances, and it's noncorrosive and readily biodegradable.

Having a foolproof product necessitates a foolproof delivery system. Many fire departments in western Washington, including Seattle, have selected the FoamPro 2000 series proportioning system by Hypro Pentair Water. It uses an electric motor-driven, flow-based proportioning system with microprocessor-controlled technology that measures water flow and then injects the proportional amount of foam concentrate to maintain the preset percentage.

A flow meter measures water flow and sends a signal to a digital display control module. Another sensing device monitors the foam pump output. Constant comparison of these two information signals by the controller ensures maintenance of the desired proportion of foam concentrate based on the water flow rate, independently of any variations in the fire pump intake or discharge pressures. As water flow increases or decreases, the foam concentrate rate of injection is increased or decreased automatically to correspond to the water flow.

Foam concentrate is injected directly into the water stream on the discharge side of the pump. It is then fed as foam solution through the fire hose and into a suitable nozzle or CAFS equipment. Since foam is injected on the discharge side of the pump, proportioning performance is not affected by external factors such as nozzles, hose diameters, length of hose lays, elevation, or incoming intake pressures. At the push of a button, the system automatically reads water flow and injects the proper proportion of foam concentrate.

FoamPro can be specified for new apparatus or retrofitted on existing ones.

So why foam? Ninety percent of today's fires are Class A in nature, but consist of modern synthetics and plastics. That's leading to flashovers occurring faster than ever due to rapid temperature increase. The benefits of using Class A foams are well documented and scientifically validated. They include improved firefighter safety; faster knockdown; excellent exposure protection; less water damage; faster cleanup; evidence preservation; reduced rekindles; and reduced environmental damage.

In areas where outside summer temperatures can become extreme - places like eastern Washington, Arizona, Texas and Florida - fire departments have reported noticeable reductions in heat-related firefighter injuries since switching to Class A foams like Novacool UEF for interior attacks on structure fires. It's the smart thing to do.

SFD Training Guide 1-1, Firefighting Foam Operations by Lt. Kurt G. Plunkett

Editor's Note: Raul A. Angulo, a veteran of the Seattle Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is on the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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